The infographic below shows you how the word “jockey” evolved. It’s quite a neat evolution and I thank Dr. Desmond Morris for it. I add some meat to the skeleton of the infographic below.
Centuries ago, the name “Jack” was used as a term to refer to an unidentified man of the ‘common people’ i.e. the man on top of the Clapham omnibus in legal parlance. The Scots in their inimitable way have their own version of the name Jack which is ‘Jock’. And the juvenile version of Jock was ‘Jockie’ especially when applied to young working men who were grooms in stables. And these guys would ride the horses in training sessions. They were professional horse handlers and still are and some become professional riders. From the name/label ‘Jockie’ it is a short step to the word that we now use all the time and in many places to mean a professional horse rider: ‘jockey’.
The word jockey had become the name for a professional rider by the late 17th century. It hasn’t changed since. But in origin, Dr. Morris amusingly tells us that a jockey is a young Scottish peasant! ?.
He also says that this is the accepted origin of the word but there is a Victorian expert who insisted on a completely different version. Dr. Morris quotes this man so I will do the same. He (or perhaps it’s a she) said “The word Jockey is neither more nor less than the term ‘chukni’ slightly modified, by which the gypsies designate the formidable whips which they usually carry, and which are at present in general use among horse-traffickers under the title of jockey-whips”.
Some experts consider this origin as fanciful but Dr. Morris thinks that it may have played a secondary role in the evolution of this word. It may even be the correct origin. It sounds reasonably plausible as words are often distorted and changed during usage especially words that look foreign and are hard to pronounce. The word ‘jockey’ has spread to other languages including German, Portuguese, Spanish and French.
Below are some more articles on horses: