Jockey was first used to refer to a person who rides a horse in races from the second half of the 17th century:

Etymonline says that jockey (n.) is a variant of the name Jack:

  • 1520s, "boy, fellow," originally a Scottish proper name, variant of Jack. The meaning "person who rides horses in races" first attested 1660s.

According to Wikipedia, jockey might derive from the Gaelic word eachaidhe:

  • Another possible origin is the Gaelic word eachaidhe, a "horseman", (pronounced yachey in late medieval times, with the ch pronounced as in German).

During the 20th century the term jockey has also been used to refer to:.

  • (Informal) One whose occupation or hobby involves a specified machine, device, or object: a computer jockey; a desk jockey. (AHD)

Probably, one of the earliest of this informal usages was "disc jokey", an expression that, together with its variants, was to become more and more popular in the following decades:

Disk jockey first recorded 1941; dee-jay is from 1955; DJ is 1961; (Etymonline)

The following extract gives a brief history of the expression and says that jockey referred to a "machine operator".

  • The term disk jockey was first used in 1935 by American radio commentator Walter Winchell to describe Martin Block; the first radio announcer that became famous for his show "Make Believe Ballroom" where Block would pretend he was broadcasting from a ballroom by playing the nation’s top dance bands. The term “disc jockey”, derived from “disc”, referring to the disc records and “jockey” which is a machine operator, caught on and appeared in print in "Variety" in 1941.



1) Does the original meaning of jockey (person who rides a horse in races) derive from the Scots Jack , the Gaelic eachaidhe (horseman) or from some other source?

2) Does the informal meaning of jockey, (someone whose work involves the use of a particular object or machine) in expressions like computer jockey, desk jockey or disc jockey, derive from its original meaning?

3) Was "disc jockey" the first expression where the term "jockey" was used to refer to someone outside the horse racing contexts.

  • There is also the expression "jockey (something) around", which means to physically move an object, usually trying to arrange it's position relative to another object. "See if you can jockey that cart around so that it's up against this one."
    – Hot Licks
    Commented Jan 1, 2016 at 13:47
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    @HotLicks presumably that's related to "jockeying for position" etc. which could easily derive from horse racing.
    – Chris H
    Commented Jan 1, 2016 at 15:08
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    I think it really is that simple. That's the most common way that words evolve variant meanings. But sometimes it's due to wordplay: after "disk jockey" became common, "desk jockey" arose because of the humorous similarity in sound.
    – Barmar
    Commented Jan 1, 2016 at 16:10
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    In its initial sense, "to jockey" consist in maneuvering to get an advantage or influence the course of the events. The verb then applied to horse riding gave the noun "jockey".
    – Graffito
    Commented Jan 1, 2016 at 17:43
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    Great question. According to OED, jockey also means a strolling minstrel or beggar; a vagabond. Sc. Obs. exc. Hist. (from 1685).
    – ermanen
    Commented Jan 1, 2016 at 23:05

1 Answer 1


1. Jockey is the diminutive or pet-form of Jock, originally Scots and northern English. Jock is the Scotch equivalent of Jack.

OED, Oxford Dictionary of Word Origins (by Julia Cresswel), Origins: A Short Etymological Dictionary of Modern English (by Eric Partridge) and A Dictionary of Scottish Phrase and Fable (by Ian Crofton), all give the same etymology.

Hence, the origin of the word is also the original meaning and OED defines as below:

A diminutive or familiar by-form of the name Jock or John, usually with the sense ‘little Jock, Jacky, Johnny’; hence, applicable (contemptuously) to any man of the common people (chiefly Sc.); also, a lad; an understrapper.

OED's earliest citation is from a1529:

Kynge Iamy, Iemmy, Iocky my io.

J. Skelton Against Scottes (1843) 90

A Dictionary of Scottish Phrase and Fable (by Ian Crofton) adds that the word Jockie was originally (in the 16th century) applied to stable lads, before coming to denote a professional rider. In the 17th and 18th centuries it was also used in English broadside ballads as a name for a Scottish soldier.

2. The informal meaning of jockey, (someone whose work involves the use of a particular object or machine) in expressions like computer jockey, desk jockey or disc jockey is an analogy to a horse jockey. It doesn't directly derive from the original meaning of jockey.

OED's earliest citation for this meaning is about driving a car and it is from 1912:

Some are, so to speak, ‘gentlemen jockeys’, and own, enter, and drive their own cars for the fun of the thing.

Collier's 28 Sept. 11/2

Additionally, the slang meaning of jockey is a driver as mentioned in a 1936 reference below:

Here is a short list of busmen's slang phrases:..Jockey (Driver).

Daily Herald 5 Aug. 8/4

3. Disc jockey was not the first expression where the term "jockey" was used to refer to someone outside the horse racing contexts.

The 1912 citation from OED has "gentlemen jockeys" that refers to the car drivers but it is not a set phrase.

Then, OED gives the following slang terms from The American thesaurus of slang (by Lester V. Berrey and Melvin Van Den Bark) from 1942:

  • Automobile racer, auto or buzzer jockey,..speed jockey,..suicide jockey.
  • Motorcycle racer, broadsider, jockey,..motor jockey.
  • Commercial driver (bus, taxicab, truck),..jockey, motor jockey.
  • Truck driver, truck jockey or spinner... Spec. juice jockey, a gasoline-truck driver; grunt-and-squeal jockey, a stock hauler;..suicide jockey, a nitro-glycerine hauler.

OED's earliest citation for disc jockey is from 1941:

Disc jockey solves vacation. Turning a program over to the public while the emcee is vacationing is big stuff from a listener's angle, WEBR is finding.

Variety 23 July 34/4

OED says that there is no evidence for the 1935 reference:

It has sometimes been suggested that the U.S. journalist and radio commentator Walter Winchell first used the term in 1935, but there does not appear to be any evidence for this.

OED also mentions the term record jockey (defined as n. U.S. colloq. temporary = disc jockey) which is from 1940 (slightly earlier than disc jockey):

[Quoting J. Kapp] The name bands are come on for the record jockeys who ride herd over not only Decca records but all the others.

Variety 3 Apr. 39/3

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