Where Did the Word “Jalopy” Come From?

No one knows for sure, apparently. The most popular theory is that it was derived from the name of a place in Mexico, Jalapa, where many used cars were supposedly sent from the United States during the early 1900s. The word first appears in print in the 1920s, and I did find the above explanation in newspapers as early as the 1940s. Newspaper readers of the 1940s also submitted these possible explanations:

  • In Germany, sloppy dress was called “sallopp” or “jallopp.” Hence a sloppy or run-down car could be called a jallopy in American slang transformation.
  • The Czech word chalupa means a small house or shack badly in need of repair.
  • The German word Schaluppe, meaning a small boat or sloop in poor shape.
  • The Spanish word dilapidado means squandered. Mexican border Spanish first changed it to “jeh-la-pi-DOW,” and then to “jeh-LAH-pay,” and finally, in American slang, to “jalopy.”

Whatever the origination, the US government adopted the word to encourage the scrapping of old automobiles for the war effort. This article is from October of 1942: