First of all, jerk chicken is different from jerky, a favorite convenience store snack. Jerky is preserved, cured meat made by cutting it into strips, then drying the pieces in the sun. It derives from ch’arki, which in Quechua (a Native American language) means “dried flesh.”
There isn’t a clear sense of the origin for the scrumptious and tangy sense of jerk. It has Caribbean roots, and may have a connection to the Arawaks, a people who lived around the area and who happen to be the source of barbecue.
Chicken starts off as the Old English cycen as “a young fowl” and gradually expands to designate any chicken. The association with cowardice goes back to the 14th century, but one didn’t “chicken out” until the 1940s. The game of chicken, immortalized in “Rebel Without a Cause,” dates from 1953.
Everyone knows that the type of jerk you don’t eat and that doesn’t twitch is best served with a side dish of derision. This slang term possibly comes from the unusual railroad phrase “jerkwater town,” where a steam locomotive crew had to take on boiler water from a trough or a creek because there was no water tank. This led to a use of the word as “inferior or insignificant.”
In weightlifting, a jerk is the raising of a weight from shoulder height to above the head by straightening the arms.
Do you “do the Jerk?” It’s a dance derived from the Twist. Try alternately thrusting out your pelvis and your shoulders.
The word soda jerk has fallen out of fashion, though it still refers to someone who prepares, dispenses, and serves sodas and ice creams at a soda fountain. The profession is named from the pulling motion that is required to work the taps.