"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.