Gibe, Gybe, Jibe, and Jive

By Maeve Maddox

The verbs gibe, gybe, jibe and jive all begin with the sound [j] and are often confused.

gibe (verb): to taunt, to insult.
Example: “If he laughed instead of cried when someone gibed at him, often the teasing stopped.” 

gibe (noun): a sneering comment, a taunt.
Example: “The teasing, taunts, gibes and hurtful acts are a part of me still.”

gybe (verb): (sailing term) to shift suddenly and with force from one side to the other when a ship is steered off the wind until the sail fills on the opposite side. Alternative spelling: jibe.
Examples: “As Phil slipped overboard, the boom gybed.”
“A gust of wind caught their sail, the boom jibed, nearly knocking Mr. Snider overboard.”

jibe (verb): to make sense, to agree with, to fit in.
Example: “The latest research findings jibe with those recorded in 1934.”

The noun jive has these three meanings:

1. a type of fast, lively jazz
We’ve been wanting to play Jive since the band first started.

2. lively and uninhibited dancing.
He doesn’t quite bounce around like a rubber band during his jive, but does good enough to notch a 7-7-7.

3. talk or conversation, especially talk that is false, misleading, or worthless.
It’s time to cut the jive and tell the truth.

As a verb, jive can mean to play lively music or to dance to lively music. Example: They spaced each other about four feet apart and were jiving to the music.

The verb jive can also mean, “to mislead or deceive.”

Maybe the narcs were jiving him, maybe they were going to shoot him in the back.

I searched his eyes for some clue that he was jiving me. He wasn’t. 

The most common errors with these words are to spell gibe as jibe and to use jive in the sense of jibe.

Here are some examples of misuse from the Web:

Incorrect: Arizona Prison Privatization Proposal Doesn’t Jive with Market
Correct : Arizona Prison Privatization Proposal Doesn’t Jibe with Market

Incorrect: But my opinion about that doesn’t jive with everyone else’s opinion. 
Correct : But my opinion about that doesn’t jibe with everyone else’s opinion. 

Incorrect: If your child is hurling his own silly jibes at the teaser, then it’s a mutual thing.
Correct : If your child is hurling his own silly gibes at the teaser, then it’s a mutual thing.

Incorrect: Put-downs, slurs, jibes, and innuendo of all kinds are never purposeless or harmless.
Correct : Put-downs, slurs, gibes, and innuendo of all kinds are never purposeless or harmless.

The Oxford English Dictionary validates the nonstandard use of jive in the sense of jibe as “U.S.” usage, but Merriam-Webster Unabridged (notorious for its tendency to embrace all types of questionable usage) does not. The only definition M-W offers for jibe is “to be in accord.” Its only definitions for the verb jive are related to music, misleading talk, and teasing.

Two other much-cited American authorities are careful to distinguish between gibe and jibe:

The Chicago Manual of Style
A gibe is a biting insult or taunt; gibes are figuratively thrown at their target “The angry crowd hurled gibes as the suspect was led into the courthouse.” Jibe means to fit, usually with negation “The verdict didn’t jibe with the judge’s own view of the facts.”

The AP Stylebook
To gibe means to taunt or sneer: “They gibed him about his mistakes.”
Jibe means to shift direction: “They jibed their ship across the wind.”
or, colloquially, to agree: “Their stories didn’t jibe.”

Summary
The sailing term may be spelled either gybe or jibe. The latter is more common in US usage.

The verb that means “to agree” or “to fit” is spelled jibe.

The noun and verb that convey taunting are spelled gibe.

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