"to pull," 1540s, "to lash, strike as with a whip," of uncertain origin, perhaps echoic. Related: Jerked; jerking.
as a method of preserving meat, 1707, American English, from American Spanish carquear, from charqui (see jerky). Related: Jerked.
1550s, "stroke of a whip," from jerk (v.1). Sense of "sudden sharp pull or twist" first recorded 1570s. Meaning "involuntary spasmodic movement of limbs or features" first recorded 1805. As the name of a popular dance, it is attested from 1966. Sense in soda jerk attested from 1883, from the pulling motion required to work the taps.
"tedious and ineffectual person," 1935 (the lyric in "Big Rock Candy Mountain" apparently is "Where they hung the Turk [not jerk] that invented work"), American English carnival slang, of uncertain origin. Perhaps from jerkwater town (1878), where a steam locomotive crew had to take on boiler water from a trough or a creek because there was no water tank [Barnhart, OED]. This led 1890s to an adjectival use of jerk as "inferior, insignificant." Alternatively, or influenced by, verbal phrase jerk off "masturbate" [Rawson].
jerk 1 (jûrk)
v. jerked, jerk·ing, jerks
To make spasmodic motions. n.
A sudden reflexive or spasmodic muscular movement. See deep reflex.
jerks Involuntary convulsive twitching often resulting from excitement. Often used with the.
: a couple of jerk wops
jerk off (1940s+)
[the derogatory term comes fr jerk off, ''masturbate''; the form soda jerker is found by 1883]