Sunday, March 06, 2011

Antedating "jerk"

[Update, March 9: This post about jerk was the result of my mishearing of Turk, so there's no antedatingSee here for details.]

Another musical antedating! Last year, as I was working away with music in the background, something in the back of my mind went sproing, and I realized Art Blakey had just used I'ma in an unexpected way. I notified Mark Liberman who brought it up on Language Log.

Just now iTunes threw up Harry McClintock's 1928 recording of "Big rock candy mountain", which contains the line, where they hung the jerk who invented work. "Hey," my mind said, "I'll bet that's a very early recording of the word jerk." So I hied myself over to the OED website to check it out.

Sure enough, a jerk, as in a stupid person, is listed in the OED as n.1 sense 5, and, as you can see, the first example is from 1935.

5. slang (orig. U.S.). Someone of little or no account; a fool, a stupid person. Cf. jerkwater n. b.

1935    A. J. Pollock Underworld Speaks 63/2   Jerk, a boob; chump; a sucker.

It's not quite as interesting an antedating as Blakey's, but I'll take it. I wonder if musical recordings are an underused resource for lexicographers.

(For more on the history of jerk, see this Word Origins blog entry.)

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