Genealogy of the word “jitney”

I love words, and thinking about how we use them, and then don’t. One such word is “jitney”.


When I was growing up, a small grocery store at the bottom of our hill was called “Jitney Jungle”. Jitney can mean “nickel”. It can also mean “cheap, shoddy, poorly made”. Or to ride on a bus. (Makes one wonder why you’d put such a term in your company’s name….)


The Jitney Jungle was where Mama sent us for a loaf of bread, a carton of milk, or even a package of cigarettes. Getting back up the hill, on a bike, with a carton of milk was not easy, but doable! I haven’t seen one in ages, but apparently they still exist.     



According to, Jitney-Jungle Stores of America, Inc., one of the largest, privately owned grocery chains in the nation, operates in six southern states: Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Tennessee. It is the largest retailer in Mississippi, its home base, where it enjoys a 25 percent share of the grocery market. It is associated with Delchamps; Sack and Save (McCarty-Holman Company, Inc.); Foodway, Inc.; Megamarkets.




The etymology (genealogy of a word!) of “Jitney” seems to be obscure to many dictionaries, but the Financial Dictionary has this history of the word:



 “Jitney, or “the jitney game,” is basically the same thing as circular trading. The term originated from “Jitney buses,” which was a derogatory slang term for Ford buses at the beginning of the century. A reporter coined the term by alluding to the five-cent piece it cost back then for a bus ride. It has since been used to refer to something that is cheaply and poorly made.”













About Libbi

Writer for 30 years. Genealogy a hobby for about 40 years. Yes, I'm in my 50's, I learned about genealogy at my mother's knee!
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