Intermediate+ Word of the Day: rig

rig (verb, noun) /rɪg/ LISTEN

An oil rig at sea

To rig is to fit out a ship with ropes, chains, sails, etc. More generally, usually followed by out, it means ‘to equip’ and, usually followed by up, to prepare or assemble something. In a negative sense, rig means ‘to manipulate in a dishonest way.’ As a noun, a rig is any equipment used for a specific purpose, the arrangement of the sails and masts on a ship, and also, mainly in US English, a tractor-trailer truck. Informally, a rig is a costume or outfit, especially when it is designed for a specific purpose or when it looks a little odd.

Example sentences

  • They expect to finish rigging the ship next week and then she'll be ready to sail.
  • The climbers were all rigged out with safety gear.
  • We finished rigging up our new home cinema system and sat down to watch a film.
  • Try as he might, the president couldn't prove the election had been rigged against him.
  • The anglers packed all their rig into the car and set off for the river.
  • Judging by the rig, I'd say it's a large ship, but I can't quite see it clearly yet.
  • The trucker jumped in his rig and started it up.
  • What kind of rig is he wearing?

Words often used with rig

rig down: to stow all the lines, tackles, and removable parts of a ship in order to put it in an inactive state.

In pop culture

A rig or drill rig is also equipment for drilling oil. The structure, whether on land or at sea, from which oil is drilled is called an oil rig. As you can probably imagine, they are dangerous places to work. Here is a clip from the 2013 movie Man of Steel, in which Clark Kent saves workers on an oil rig:

Did you know?

In Australia, rig is also slang for a fit, attractive or sexy person, and can be used to describe a bloke (man) or chick (woman).


Rig dates back to the late 15th century. Most linguists think the verb originally meant ‘to fit with sails’ and came into English through a Scandinavian source, though some believe that it was an English word that Scandinavian languages adopted. In either case, it may have originated from the Proto-Indo-European root reig– (to bind). It is related to the Danish and Norwegian rigge, ‘to equip,’ and the Swedish rigga ‘to rig, harness.’ The noun comes from the verb and, meaning ‘arrangement of sails, mast and other equipment on a ship,’ dates back to the early 19th century, and had extended to outfits by the mid-19th century. The meaning ‘horse-drawn carriage’ also appeared in the early to mid-19th century, and soon extended to buses, trucks and other vehicles, as well as to oil well machinery. As for the other meanings of rig, it’s possible (but not proven) that they come from a different word of unknown origin: a noun, rig, which meant ‘sport, banter or ridicule,’ appeared in the early 18th century, and took on the meaning ‘trick, swindle or scheme‘ by the late 19th century. The verb, meaning ‘to pre-arrange or tamper with results,’ was first used in the 1930s, and may have come from this noun. It also may be a re-appearance of a verb, rig, from the 16th century, which meant ‘to ransack.’ Its origin is also unknown.

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