Writing Tip: Gibe, Jibe, and Jive

What’s the difference between gibe, jibe, and jive?

I looked this up recently when I was working on a piece that used jive to mean in agreement. I thought it should be jibe but wanted to see if jive is listed as an alternate spelling. More on that below.

These Three Words Look Similar But Mean Different Things

Gibe means both to taunt using sarcastic words and a sarcastic taunt.

Jibe means in agreement. It’s also a sailing term that means to shift from one side to the other or to change a ship’s course by moving the sails to the opposite side of the boat to catch wind from a different angle.

Jive was popularized by jazz and swing musicians in the 1920s. It can mean both deceptive, glib talk and to talk in a misleading, exaggerated manner. It can also refer to jazz and swing music.

Jive is also commonly used to mean jibe or in agreement. However, Merriam-Webster and the American Heritage Dictionary do not include this meaning even though it’s been used in this sense since the 1940s. The OED does include this meaning in definition 1b under verb.

It will be interesting to see if that sense earns an entry in major US dictionaries.

Merriam-Webster Won This One

This Merriam-Webster post on the definitions of the three words persuaded me to change jive to jibe because the client’s house dictionary is Merriam-Webster.

If you’re interested in learning how words get added to the dictionary, check this out.