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1915 cartoon of a jitney

1886, originally for a five-cent US coin (a nickel);[1] use for taxis and buses due to these services originally charging five cents as fare, popularized circa 1915.[2][3][4][5][6]

The etymology is uncertain; it is believed to originate from Louisiana Creole French jetnée, from French jeton (token, coin-sized metal disc),[4][7][8] though this is disputed. Evidence for the Louisiana Creole French origin include the geographic distribution (Southeastern US, especially Negro/African-American), and early spelling as gitney, which is common French spelling for the /ji/ pronunciation.[8]


jitney (plural jitneys)

  1. A small bus or minibus which typically operates service on a fixed route, sometimes scheduled.
  2. An unlicensed taxi cab.
  3. A shared-ride taxi.
  4. (US, archaic) A small coin, a nickel.
  5. (in attributive use, US, archaic) Very inexpensive.
  6. (Canada) An informal lawn bowling or curling competition in which all players present are randomly drawn into teams.
  7. (Can we clean up(+) this sense?) A fraudulent arrangement whereby a broker who has direct access to an exchange executes trades on behalf of a broker who doesn't.


  1. ^ 1886 Dec 09, Springfield Globe-Republic (now Springfield Daily Republic), Springfield, Ohio, p. 1
    Different names for a Five-Cent Piece. … “Do it for a ‘jitney,’” cited in Why did Jitney become slang for nickel?, answer by JEL, 2017-01-12
  2. ^ Stephen Goranson <goranson@duke.edu> (2009-03-16), “antedating jitney 1899”, in Ads-l – The American Dialect Society Mailing List, Usenet[1], retrieved 2019-09-01:
    The Morning Herald, page Page 4, iss. 349, December 16, 1899, Lexington, Kentucky
    Election So Quiet This Pair of "Heavy-Enders" Didn't Know it Was on - A Little Tramp Philosophy
    "Can't spare de change. Me granmaw died in Sout' Afriky an' I need dis to float me over ter de fun'ral"
    "Quit yer kiddin' an' let me have a jitney"
  3. ^ Stephen Goranson <goranson@duke.edu> (2009-03-17), “antedating jitney 1899”, in Ads-l – The American Dialect Society Mailing List, Usenet[2], retrieved 2019-09-01
  4. 4.0 4.1 Stephen Goranson <goranson@duke.edu> (2016-07-02), “[Ads-l] jitney--etymology and antedating”, in Ads-l – The American Dialect Society Mailing List, Usenet[3], retrieved 2019-09-01:
    In the May 1, 1915 Literary Digest, Frank H. Vizetelly, "The Lexicographer's Easy Chair" p. 1062, col 2-3 reported: "To Troop-Sergeant George Washington Lee we owe the reminder of a little catch popular with the Louisianian French-Speaking negro:
    Mettons jetnée danz il trou
    Et parcourons sur la rue--
    Mettons jetnée--si non vous
    Vous promenez à pied nou! This may be freely translated:
    Put a jitney in the slot
    And over the street you ride;
    Put a jitney--for if not
    You'll foot it on your hide.
    ...." [But the whole article is worth reading, including the proposal that the word was "coined by Southern negros for a nickel" and influenced by French jeton or jetton. The following newly-reported discovery appears to confirm such an origin by giving--in an African-American newspaper in 1898--a transitional form. Illinois Record, Springfield IL, [America's Historical Newspapers] Jan 29, 1898, p. 3 col. 5 "Spingfield South-End Happenings": "What little jetney coachman on S. 6th street has such a big head he cant put on the coachman's hat he only wears the coat with brass buttons?" Note association with coach as well as (presumably) coin (or token), of little worth.
  5. ^ Los Angeles Herald, Volume XLI, Number 158, 4 May 1915: Jitney Etiquette—Simple Rules for Beginners
  6. ^ Los Angeles Herald, Volume XLI, Number 248, 17 August 1915: Jitney Jingle
  7. ^ Literary Digest, Frank H. Vizetelly, "The Lexicographer's Easy Chair", May 1, 1915, p. 1062, col 2–3
  8. 8.0 8.1 David L. Gold, Studies in Etymology and Etiology, 2009, "9. American English jitney 'five-cent coin; sum of five cents' Has No Apparent Jewish or Russian Connection and May Come from (Black?) Louisiana French jetnée (On the Increasing Difficulty of Harvesting All the Grain)", p. 163–192