Origin of jerk

1540–50; 1935–40 for def 4; perhaps dialectal variant of yerk to draw stitches tight (shoemaker's term), thus making the shoe ready to wear, Old English gearcian to prepare, make ready
Related formsjerk·er, nounjerk·ing·ly, adverb



verb (used with object)

to preserve (meat, especially beef) by cutting in strips and curing by drying in the sun.


being or containing a spicy seasoning mixture flavored with allspice, used especially in Jamaican cooking: jerk sauce.
prepared with jerk flavorings, especially by barbecuing or grilling: jerk chicken.


Origin of jerk

First recorded in 1700–10; back formation from jerky2

physical jerks

plural noun British.

physical conditioning exercises, as push-ups and knee bends.
Also called jerks.
Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2019

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Contemporary Examples of jerk

Historical Examples of jerk

British Dictionary definitions for jerk




to move or cause to move with an irregular or spasmodic motion
to throw, twist, pull, or push (something) abruptly or spasmodically
(tr often foll by out) to utter (words, sounds, etc) in a spasmodic, abrupt, or breathless manner


an abrupt or spasmodic movement
an irregular jolting motionthe car moved with a jerk
Also called: physical jerks (plural) British informal physical exercises
(plural) US a slang word for chorea
slang, mainly US and Canadian a person regarded with contempt, esp a stupid or ignorant person
Derived Formsjerker, nounjerking, adjective, noun

Word Origin for jerk

C16: probably variant of yerk to pull stitches tight in making a shoe; compare Old English gearcian to make ready



verb (tr)

to preserve (venison, beef, etc) by cutting into thin strips and curing by drying in the sun


Also called: jerky jerked meat, esp beef

Word Origin for jerk

C18: back formation from jerky, from charqui

physical jerks

pl n

British informal See jerk 1 (def. 6)
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012

Word Origin and History for jerk

"to pull," 1540s, "to lash, strike as with a whip," of uncertain origin, perhaps echoic. Related: Jerked; jerking.


"tedious and ineffectual person," 1935 (the lyric in "Big Rock Candy Mountain" apparently is "Where they hung the Turk [not jerk] that invented work"), American English carnival slang, of uncertain origin. Perhaps from jerkwater town (1878), where a steam locomotive crew had to take on boiler water from a trough or a creek because there was no water tank [Barnhart, OED]. This led 1890s to an adjectival use of jerk as "inferior, insignificant." Alternatively, or influenced by, verbal phrase jerk off "masturbate" [Rawson].


1550s, "stroke of a whip," from jerk (v.1). Sense of "sudden sharp pull or twist" first recorded 1570s. Meaning "involuntary spasmodic movement of limbs or features" first recorded 1805. As the name of a popular dance, it is attested from 1966. Sense in soda jerk attested from 1883, from the pulling motion required to work the taps.


as a method of preserving meat, 1707, American English, from American Spanish carquear, from charqui (see jerky). Related: Jerked.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper

jerk in Medicine




To make spasmodic motions.


A sudden reflexive or spasmodic muscular movement.deep reflex
jerks Involuntary convulsive twitching often resulting from excitement. Often used with the.
The American Heritage® Stedman's Medical Dictionary Copyright © 2002, 2001, 1995 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company.