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I often hear people use the word "jive" when I'm pretty sure they mean "jibe." It's a subtle sound difference so it's hard to catch. But why do so many people mix these two up?

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Reminds me of the Simpson's episode where Homer asks What's a gym? – Emre Apr 12 '11 at 6:23
You mean people are launching jives at you? And this is a problem? – intuited Apr 12 '11 at 7:33
To save people a lookup: beedictionary.com/common-errors/gibe_vs_jibe_vs_jive - even the BeeGees got it wrong ;) – mplungjan Apr 12 '11 at 7:37
I didn't know what either word meant until this thread made me look them up. – Peter Olson Apr 13 '11 at 15:32
up vote 1 down vote accepted

I would assume that the primary cause is the similarity in sounds. "Jibe" and "jive" sound close enough you could mishear one for the other; once enough people get it mixed up it sticks. "Jive" probably got the benefit of the doubt in people's minds because English has more "-ive" words than "-ibe."

For what it is worth, I didn't know it was supposed to be "jibe." Everyone I know says "jive." If it bugs you, kindly point it out in the style of trivia: "Did you know the word actually has a b in it? Most people say it with a v but I saw it written and..." People who care will learn; those who don't get to be wrong. But if enough people are wrong for a long enough time they become right... so hedge your bets accordingly.

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I agree with this, except I would predict that the likely cause is simply that the word "jive" is much more common than "jibe" (rather than generalizing about "-ive" and "-ibe", though it could be that too). – Kosmonaut Apr 13 '11 at 15:42
@Kos: But how did "jive" get much more common? Now that the error has stuck it makes sense that it gets passed around. The -ive/-ibe is just a guess but without knowing "jibe" in particular I would probably have assumed they meant "jive" or are mispronouncing "jib." – MrHen Apr 13 '11 at 16:17
What I mean is, "jive" just happened to be more common already in its own domain (and its meaning made it so that it wasn't such a huge stretch to be used where "jibe" is supposed to be used). I was thinking of something similar to folk etymologies. – Kosmonaut Apr 13 '11 at 16:23
@Kos: Ah, yes. I completely agree. I debated mentioning that in the answer and decided it was pushing a little too much conjecture into such a small space. Since you pointed it out anyway, everything went better than expected. :) – MrHen Apr 13 '11 at 16:31

This is one of a large collection of errors of this type. ("Tact" for "tack" is one that I particularly note.) My observation is that people mis-hear something, understand the meaning from the context, but have no clue about the etymology. They then simply repeat what they believe to be the correct phrase, and it is propagated.

Most of us don't research where phrases come from when we first learn them. Certainly not in our early years when we acquire the largest part of our working vocabulary.

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See also eggcorns and mondegreens. – mmyers Apr 14 '11 at 12:53
cole slaw/cold slaw. Duct tape/duck tape. Bated breath/Baited breath. – LindaJeanne Apr 24 '15 at 21:15

I found an interesting Maven's word of the day article sharing the differences between "jive", "jibe" and "gibe". The misuse is so common now that at least one dictionary doesn't mention this fact.

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