|Slang City Mail|
|September 20, 2007|
Slang of the Week: jockey box (noun phrase)
—anaman51, a contributor to Free Speech TV Community (freespeech.org)
Earlier this fall, I was creating a Slang Map for the website, and I realized that there were great swaths of the country that I had missed in my writing. I’m sorry to say that most of the gaps occurred in the so-called “flyover zone” or “flyover country” in the middle of the US, which many people fly over to get to the coasts, but never visit.
Since I was born in that sadly ignored region, I feel doubly guilty and hope to make up for it. Thus did I scan Jim Crotty’s book How To Talk American for regional lingo and find “jockey box” under a section on Idaho. I wondered, however, if anyone still used this term.
Apparently, some people do, but it is not very common. Apart from a few personal posts like the one above (in which the author writes nostalgically of shooting small animals in Boise as a child) it is used to describe a kind of portable beer cooler. A beer equipment website (micromatic.com) maintains that the coolers are so called because you jockey (carry) them around. It may be true, but this strikes me as dubious; people who spend their days drinking beer are not generally known for their lexical scholarship.
The glove compartment meaning, on the other hand, has a perfectly solid history. The Oxford English Dictionary explains that back in 1890, a jockey box was “a box in a wagon, underneath the driver's seat, for carrying small articles.” While the wagon has changed, the function remains the same.