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.
"tedious and ineffectual person," 1935, American English carnival slang, of uncertain origin. Perhaps from jerkwater "petty, inferior, insignificant" [Barnhart, OED]; alternatively from, or influenced by, verbal phrase jerk off "masturbate" [Rawson]. The lyric in "Big Rock Candy Mountain," sometimes offered as evidence of earlier use, apparently is "Where they hung the Turk [not jerk] that invented work."
"to pull with sudden energy," 1580s; earlier "to lash, strike as with a whip" (1540s, surviving only in dialect), of uncertain origin, perhaps echoic. Intransitive sense of "make a sudden spasmodic motion" is from c. 1600. A soda jerk attested from 1883, from the pulling motion required to work the taps. Soda jerk (1915) is so called for the pulling motion required to work the taps.
Compare Middle English yerkid, an adjective apparently meaning "pulled tight" (early 15c.), which has the form of a past participle. Also compare Middle English ferken "move hastily; drive (something) forward," from Old English fercian "to proceed." Related: Jerked; jerking.
"preserve (meat) by cutting into long thin strips and drying in the sun," 1707, American English, from American Spanish carquear, from charqui (see jerky). Related: Jerked.
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