Merriam-Webster cites 1824 as the first usage of "perk" as a noun as short for "perquisite". I'm curious if this occurred in a particular location (e.g., America or England) or if we know any more about the circumstances when the short form gained popularity.


4 Answers 4


It comes from Scotland

The 1824 date comes from the earliest date for pirkas/pirkus given in the Dictionary of the Scots Language:

An unofficial emolument or addition to one's income, a gratuity, tip, perquisite, “perk” (Gall. 1824 MacTaggart Gallov. Encycl. 383, pirkus).

That reference is for The Scottish Gallovidian encyclopedia, which contains an entry for "pirkus" (but not perks).

In later dictionaries such as The English Dialect Dictionary (1903), "perks" is labeled as "Sc. Lon. Slang."

  • 10
    If I understand the OED correctly, it did not come from Scotland. Rather Scottish shortened perquisite to pirkuz before English shortened perquisite to perk. Not perquisite > pirkuz > perk. Feb 8 at 1:08

Perk was formed by shortening and altering perquisite.(M-W)

About perk, Etymonline also says that indeed it is a shortened version of perquisite:

1869, a shortened, colloquial form of perquisite (q.v.), also perq. As a verb, 1934 as a shortened and altered form of percolate, also perc.

So the year this usage appeared seems to be 1869.

I have not found the example from 1824 you mention.

EclecticLight explains

In the nineteenth century (first recorded in 1869), the old word perquisite increasingly became abbreviated to perk, in the sense of a non-monetary benefit associated with a job or work. Thus someone working in a factory might take home an empty wooden palette on the basis that it is a perk of the job.

Ngram finds examples as early as 1873:

  • On the other hand , the personal friends of Bummer, that is to say, the men whom he had put into "soft places," or who had shared his "perks," - supported him for many cogent reasons. (The Atlantic Monthly - Volume 32, 1873)
  • Besides , you can have no idea what an amount per year you put into cook's purse through the medium of her “perks.” (Economical housewife, 1880)
  • 1
    Also, from James Greenwood, The Seven Curses of London (1869): "Ordinarily it [petty pilfering] is called by the cant name of 'perks,' which is a convenient abbreviation of the word "perquisites," and in the hands of the users of it, it shows itself a word of amazing flexibility."
    – Sven Yargs
    Feb 8 at 0:37
  • I was looking for that one, but I gave up too early :)
    – fev
    Feb 8 at 6:45
  • 2
    Greenwood may be responsible for the three earliest instances of perks (for perquisites) in published English: the 1869 instance I noted above; the 1874 instance cited by Green (and noted in user 66974's answer), and an instance from "Studies of Street-Life in London," in the May 1871 issue of The Eclectic Magazine. In each case, Greenwood defines the term for readers who may not know it.
    – Sven Yargs
    Feb 8 at 7:59

Actually Etymonline suggests a later date (1869) for perk as well as Green’s Dictionary of Slang whose early usage examples are from BrE, AusE and AmE. Apparently the short form of perquisite became popular in main English dialects quite quickly:

perk n.1 also perq [SE perquisite] a bonus, esp. that which comes with a job; usu. in pl.

1874 [UK] J. Greenwood Wilds of London (1881) 118: She [...] earns her eighteenpence a day and her ‘perks,’ which is a handy abbreviation of ‘perquisites’.

1881 [Aus] Bulletin (Sydney) 19 Mar. 4/3: A leading undertaker writes, assuring us that he never allows any of his men to appropriate the gold tooth-plates of the defunct as perqs.

1882 [US] Nat. Police Gaz. (NY) 23 Dec. 2/2: Detectives must have some protection and privileges [...] not to mention the ‘perks’.


If Ngram Viewer (with smoothing disabled) is to be believed, "perk" overtook "perquisite" around 1975 in AmE, though the two had become equally common by 1943. In BrE, "perk" overtook "perquisite" at about the same time, but the change was quite abrupt compared to that in AmE.

  • But that presumably is biased towards formal written English, so conversational and casual usage may have been common much earlier. Feb 10 at 15:48
  • On the other hand, it may be confounded by the use of "perk" as a verb ("perk up").
    – alphabet
    Feb 10 at 15:55

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