Slang City Mail

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September 20, 2007

Slang of the Week: jockey box (noun phrase)
the glove compartment in a car (Idaho and Montana)

Example:
Larry’s date seemed to be going well, but after the movie, Sharon opened the jockey box and found his Hello Kitty Fan Club ID card.

Celebrity quote:
“I can also recall one of my friends being taken to jail one night because his car was absolutely devoid of anything illegal, and it pissed them off; when it became clear that there were no drugs to be found, they pounced on an ordinary screwdriver in the jockey box and busted him for ‘felony possession of burglary tools.’”

—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.

Bookstore
Take a look in our bookstore for books and DVDs on all kinds of slang! This week’s pick: Dewdroppers, Waldos, and Slackers: A Decade-by-Decade Guide to the Vanishing Vocabulary of the Twentieth Century by Rosemarie Ostler. In it, you’ll find other disappearing (or disappeared) terms, such as rubber cow (1920s), bed check Charlie (1950s) and giraffe party (1940s)