And maps to places we'll never go again.
Dear Word Detective: When I was growing up my father always called the glove compartment in the car a "jockey box." The other day one of me kids asked me why I called the glove box a "jockey box." I got him off my back by telling him about my father calling it a "jockey box," and that worked for the time being. He's fairly young right now so I got away with it. I'm sure he will ask again. When that happens I would like to give him an answer that will satisfy his curiosity. -- Brett Albertson.
Your son's question is a good one, and if I were riding in your car I would probably have asked the same thing, since I've never heard anyone call it a "jockey box." The standard term here in the US is "glove compartment," while in Britain (and elsewhere) it is called the "glove box," thereby saving two syllables. As both names imply, the ostensible purpose of the compartment is the storage of gloves, but in practice it is almost always used for the hoarding of random flotsam gathered in transit and saved for use "in an emergency." Our glove box contains, for example, several wads of paper napkins, two dozen straws, various plastic eating implements, a dozen loose Life Savers no sane person would touch, and a cell phone we use about twice a year.
A "jockey," of course, is a person who rides horses, especially in a race. "Jockey" first appeared in English in the 16th century (originally in Scots and Northern dialects), and was originally simply a diminutive or "pet" form of the name "Jock" (a form of "John"), also used as a generic name for any young man or member of the "rabble." By the mid-17th century, "jockey" was being used to mean "one who works with horses," specifically the driver of a horse-drawn carriage or a professional rider in horse races.
"Jockey box" is a relic of the now-obsolete sense of "jockey" meaning "a carriage or wagon driver." A "jockey box" was a small locked box under the driver's seat, used for storing tools, the driver's own personal effects, or other valuables. As horse-drawn carriages were replaced by automobiles, the term "jockey box" came to be applied to the glove box.
I'm not sure where you're from, but according to the Dictionary of American Regional English, "jockey box" is today largely a regional term heard in the Northwestern US.
· 9 years ago