Word Confusion: Jam versus Jamb

Posted August 3, 2015 by Kathy Davie in Author Resources, Editing, Self-Editing, Word Confusions, Writing

I don’t often run across this word confusion, but when I do…hoo-boy. Ticks me off no end. If I have to read one more time about some character leaning up against a jam, I’ll spit and have a tantrum.

A jam is a mess. Okay, so strawberry jam is only messy when the toast hits the floor face down or if the baby gets into it, but if you’ve ever been in a traffic jam or dealt with paper jams, you’ll agree. It’s a mess.

Now a jamb is supportive, constructive. The only mess a jamb will get into is, ahem, a writer using it wrong, or if the door jamb is hung askew. It’s primary job is to provide a stationary post to hang a door on. It might also hold up a decorative molding. It could be recessed to hold counterweights or shutters. It usually has hinges and a door catch of some sort mortised in. People lean against them.

Word Confusions…

…started as my way of dealing with a professional frustration with properly spelled words that were out of context in manuscripts I was editing as well as books I was reviewing. It evolved into a sharing of information with y’all. I’m hoping you’ll share with us words that have been a bête noir for you from either end. Consider sharing this Word Confusion with friends by tweeting it.

Jam Jamb
Credit to: Apple Dictionary.com; Merriam-Webster: jam

A half-empty jar of blackcurrant jam

Image by Oleg Sidorenko from Moscow, Russia (Uploaded by Yarl) [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Someone’s been eating my jam!

An intricately carved wooden Chettinad doorway (late 19th – early 20th century) in the Indian Heritage Centre, Singapore.

Image by Smuconlaw (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons

OK, so this isn’t a jamb I can knock up over the weekend.

Part of Grammar:
Noun 1, 2; Verb, intransitive & transitive 1

Noun plural & third person present verb: jams
Past tense or past participle: jammed
Gerund or Present participle: jamming

An instance of a machine or thing seizing or becoming stuck 1

  • [Informal] An awkward situation or predicament
  • short for traffic jam
  • [Climbing; often used with an adjective] A handhold obtained by stuffing a part of the body such as a hand or foot into a crack in the rock

An informal gathering of musicians improvising together, especially in jazz or blues

  • Jam session
  • [Slang] A musical piece

A sweet spread or preserve made from fruit and sugar boiled to a thick consistency 2

Verb, intransitive:
Squeeze or pack tightly into a specified space

[Informal] Improvise with other musicians, especially in jazz or blues

Verb, transitive:
Squeeze or pack tightly into a specified space

  • Push something roughly and forcibly into position or a space
  • Crowd onto a road so as to block it
  • Cause telephone lines to be continuously busy with a large number of calls

Become or make unable to move or work due to a part seizing or becoming stuck

  • Make a broadcast or other electronic signal unintelligible by causing interference

To push forcibly

[Sports] To block, crowd, or bump a pass receiver near the line of scrimmage in football

[Sports] To pitch inside to a batter

A side post or surface of a doorway, window, or fireplace

  • A columnar mass or pillar in a mine or quarry

Door jamb, window jamb

That damn copier has more paper jams.

Ya gotta help me, Nick. I’m in a jam.

Traffic is jammed up on the 405, Tom.

A hand jam simply means that your hands are wedged into a crack with the palms facing one wall of the crack and the back of your hand facing the other.

Bertie’s havin’ a jam session in his basement.

I like strawberry jam with my toast.

Mom’s making raspberry jam tomorrow.

Verb, intransitive:
Some 75,000 refugees jammed into a stadium today to denounce the accord.

The photocopier jammed again.

It was an opportunity to jam with Atlanta blues musicians.

Verb, transitive:
Four of us were jammed in one compartment.

People jammed their belongings into cars and fled the forest fire.

He jammed his hat on.

Tom had to jam on his brakes to keep from slamming into the bus.

The roads were jammed with traffic.

Listeners jammed WOKY’s switchboard with calls.

The doors were jammed open.

GPS signals are weak and easily jammed.

Baby, the door jamb is crooked. It’ll take more than a little sandpaper to let us close that dang door.

That jamb ready so we can hang that door today?

If we get some of that jamb armor, we can make it harder to kick the door in.

I bet you could build your own door jamb, and that way we could use that salvage door.

The jamb on the passenger side got bent real bad in that crash.

Adjective: jammy
Noun: jammer
History of the Word:
1 First known use: 1706

Early 18th century, probably symbolic

2 First known use: circa 1736

Middle English from the Old French jambe meaning leg or vertical support. It’s based on the Greek kampē meaning joint.

Return to top

C’mon, get it out of your system, bitch, whine, moan…which words are your pet peeves?

Leave a Reply