Where does the term jerried come from? It's an Australian slang term that means 'realised'

  • 2
    Good question. It would help if you could present what you know so far. Have you done any research online that you can edit into your question? – RaceYouAnytime Aug 16 '17 at 2:17
  • Jerry: verb (i) (jerried, jerrying) Colloquial (sometimes followed by to) to understand; realise: he jerries to what's going on. [20th century; origin unknown] - Macquarie Dictionary - macquariedictionary.com.au/features/word/search/… – user66974 Aug 16 '17 at 6:30

Oxford Dictionaries has the best explanation:

Late 19th century: from US slang, in the phrase to be jerry (to) ‘to be wise to; to understand’, of unknown origin.

The full OED (unsurprisingly) tells the same story, but it's worth checking out if you can for the references. Here's its earliest attestations for "jerry":

1917 Digger 4/3 — The excuse was so full of Mer(r)it that the officer failed to ‘Jerry’ to it.
1918 Chrons. N.Z.E.F. 21 June 221/1 — Unless the sergeant jerries to your lurk.

And this is its earliest attestation for the American expression "to be jerry (to)":

Alla, bless her heart, she is a good soul, is a flighty creature and she accepted the attentions of the comedian which his wife was not supposed to be jerry to.
Sorrows of Show Girl, 1908


G.A. Wilkes, A Dictionary of Australian Colloquialisms (1978) has this entry for "to jerry to":

jerry to, to To become 'wise' to {U.S. 1908 Mathews} [First two citations:] 1913 Arthur Wright Gamblers' Gold 111: 'I always thought I'd seen yer somewhere, but I on'y jerried ter yer when yer was dealin' it out.' 1919 W.H. Downing, Digger Dialects 30: Jerry To understand suddenly.

The reference to Mathews in Wilkes's entry is to Mitford Mathews, A Dictionary of Americanisms on Historical Principles (1951), which has this entry for jerry:

jerry, a. To be jerry to, to be "wise" to or cognizant of.—1908 K. McGaffey Show-Girl 200 She accepted the attentions of the comedian, which his wife was not supposed to be jerry to. 1928 Collier's 29 Dec. 29/4 Now ... you know I'm jerry to you.

'Jerry to' in Australia

A journalist for the Melbourne Argus noted the term in "Schoolboys' Slang: Varied Vocabulary: Vulgar Expressions Becoming Common," reprinted in the [Sydney, New South Wales] Evening News (April 26, 1907):

Nor has the school any admiration for the boy who is "copped and flopped for cogging" (caught and flogged for cheating). Note the survival in slang of the old English word "cog." The master has "jerried to the cogger's lurk," "tumbled to his dart," or "dropped to his game." "Jerried to his lurk" is the most modern. Is there any connection between jerry-building and the substitution of "jerry" for "tumble?"

But the first instances of "jerried to" are a bit older than that. From "The Busker," in the [Perth, Western Australia] Sunday Times (December 2, 1906):

Going well and strong at Palace Gardens in Scotch songs, Jack Willis. J.W. only tried these kilt ditties as a stop-gap, but even the hoodlum in the back-gallery has jerried to the fact that there is often more humor j in a bar of these Hielan' harmonies than in a whole first part of coon-cake atrocities, notwithstanding the chain-lightning joke-patter of the corner-men.

And before that, from "After the Show: G.H. Reid: At the 'Zazione: What Dully Saw," in the [Hobart, Tasmania] Clipper (February 21, 1903), reprinted from the Perth Spectator:

I tell yer straight, I was terrible disappointed. Why, strike me lucky, Edmun Barton's a king to 'im a king to 'im, 'ow it is they don't tumble to Reid, I don't know. Why, he's all kid and make believe, you know; clever and all that, but a man o' the world like you or me'd jerry to him in no time. And 'ow does 'e give 'em the kokum, slingin' off at Bill Lyne and John Forrest, and guyin' Austin Chatman; but you know 'e'll work that game too wide one o' these nights, and the ordinance'll go dead crook on 'im, and 'is name wont be Reid then—it'll be 'Mud' for a change, and good enough for 'im. You know I like a fighter like ole John, someone what'll get up and rock it into 'em, but of all things, I can't stand a man what'll try and travel on abusin' 'is political colleagues, or whatever you call 'em, because I call that dirt.'

'Jerry to' in the United States

Earlier still—and an ocean away—from "Two More Games for the Angels: Morley's Stars Outclass Cal Ewing's Nine Wonders," in the San Francisco [California] Call (June 30, 1902), an account of two baseball games between Los Angeles and Oakland:

Reilly thinks all the credit is due to the crop of hair he has concealed in a bottle somewhere, but the fans say it is all up to the swell way of playing the game which the Angels have lately become jerry to. They simply played the leaders to a standstill, and always won out when Oakland was standing still. If the champs once got a heavy start Morley's punchers would not have a chance.

Over the next four years, the San Francisco Call used the phrase "jerry to" in 28 additional accounts of baseball games—five more in 1902, ten in 1903, nine in 1904 and four in 1905. It also used the expression once in connection with horse-race results, on March 10, 1903.

It next appears in a Chicago newspaper, in the context of boxing. From "Will Fitz Fight Champion Hart?" in the [Chicago, Illinois] Saturday Blade (August 12, 1905):

"I hope Hart sees it in print. If he will make me a suitable side bet and can get a good guaranteed purse I'll fight him six rounds, ten rounds, or to a finish. It's a matter of supreme indifference to me what the length the fight is signed up for. I think I could stick one on his jaw that wouldn’t come off for a week, and that's no Buffalo Bill, either, as Chuck Conners says.

"Say," continued Bob [Fitzsimmons], just getting jerry to a new thought, "this Charley Mitchell and John L. Sullivan fight ought to be the jammy article, eh? The idea of those two old men asking me for a fight. Haw, ha! Why, a young fellow like me caught in the ring with those mummies would be arrested."


The expression "jerry to" has a peculiar history. It pops up in 1902 in San Francisco, California, in the baseball reporting at a particular newspaper, which uses the expression repeatedly over the next several years in connection with baseball and (once) horse racing. In 1905, it appears in a Chicago, Illinois, newspaper in the context of boxing.

In Australia, the expression "jerry to" debuts in Perth, Western Australia, in 1903, and the earliest instance of "jerried to" in any of the search results I looked at appears in 1905 in the same city. For some reason, U.S. newspapers during the period 1902–1906 seem never to have adopted the past-tense form "jerried to."

The meaning of "jerry to" in both countries seems to have been identical, suggesting that the expression crossed the Pacific—either eastward or westward—right around the turn of the century. In the United States, however, "jerry to" seems to have gone extinct by 1950; the last entry for it in A Dictionary of Americanisms is from 1928, and Wentworth & Flexner's Dictionary of American Slang (1960) doesn't mention it at all.

In Australia, though, the expression persists, to judge from this entry in Macquarie Slang Dictionary, revised edition (2000):

jerry phr. jerry to, to understand, realise: He jerries to what's going on.

So whether the expression was originally an Australian one or an American one, it is certainly by rights an Australian one now.

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