Another Theory on the Origin of the Term “Rock and Roll”

The accepted etymology of the term “rock and roll” is that it descended from African-American slang for “sex.” 

This has been traced back to at least to the years around World War I.  But here’s another theory.  During World War II, military aircraft engines included a part called a “rocker arm” that had a roller attached to one end that opened and close intake and exhaust valves. 

When it was seen to be working properly, mechanics said that the engine was “rocking and rolling.”  When these same mechanics went drinking and dancing in the 40s, they were said to be able to “rock and roll” as fast as their aircraft engines. 

And when they returned home after the war, they applied this same term to a new type of music that was on the rise.  It’s an interesting theory that I’m sure comes into play somewhere.


Alan Cross

is an internationally known broadcaster, interviewer, writer, consultant, blogger and speaker. In his 40+ years in the music business, Alan has interviewed the biggest names in rock, from David Bowie and U2 to Pearl Jam and the Foo Fighters. He’s also known as a musicologist and documentarian through programs like The Ongoing History of New Music.

One thought on “Another Theory on the Origin of the Term “Rock and Roll”

  • January 13, 2013 at 10:41 pm


    Was listening to the show today on my local station (98.9 Jet – Courtenay). Right after you explained the possibility for the term 'Rock and Roll' coming from the rockers in aircraft you played a really cool song. (I believe it was the song just before Rocket 88). It was a great tune and I desperately listened afterwards to get the title and band name but must have missed it. If you could let me know that would be fantastic!!



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