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I. Applied to men, but always depreciatingly. (See Tom.)

(1) Jack Adams. A fool.

(3) Jack-a-dreams. A man of inaction, a mere dreamer.

(4) Jack-a-drognes. A good-natured, lazy fool. (Dutch, druilen, to be listless; our drawl.)

(5) Jack-a-Lent. A half-starved, sheepish booby. Shakespeare says: “You little Jack-a-lent, have you been true to us?” (Merry Wives of Windsor, iii. 3.)

A kind of Aunt Sally which was thrown at in Lent. (See Cleveland’s Poems [1660], p. 64.)

(6) Jack-a-napes (q.v.).

(7) Jack-at-a-pinch. One who lends a hand in an emergency; an itinerant clergyman who has no cure, but officiates for a fee in any church where his assistance is required.

(8) Jack Brag. (See Brag.)

(9) Jack Fool. More generally, Tom Fool (q.v.).

(10) Jack Ketch (q.v.).

(11) Jack-pudding (q.v.).

(12) Jack-sauce. An insolent sauce-box, “the worst Jack of the pack.” Fluellen says one who challenges another and refuses to fight is a “Jack-sauce.” (Henry V., iv. 7.)

(13) Jack-snip. A botching tailor.

(14) Jack-slave. “Every Jack-slave hath his belly full of fighting.” (Shakespeare: Cymbeline, ii. 1.)

(15) Jack-sprat (q.v.).

(16) Jack-straw. A peasant rebel.

(17) Jack-tar (q.v.).

(18) Jack-in-office. A conceited official, or upstart, who presumes on his official appointment to give himself airs.

(19) Jack-in-the-green. A chimney-sweep boy in the midst of boughs, on May Day.

(20) Jack-in-the-water. An attendant at the waterman’s stairs, etc., willing to wet his feet, if needs be, for a “few coppers.”

(21) Jack-of-all-trades. One who can turn his hand to anything, but excels in nothing.

(22) Jack-of-both-sides. One who tries to favour two antagonistic parties, either from fear or for profit.

(23) Jack-out-of-office. “But long I will not be Jack-out-of-office.” (Shakespeare: 1 Henry VI., i. 1.).

(24) Cheap Jack. (See Cheap.)

(25) Jack will never be a gentleman. A mere parvenu will never be like a well-bred gentleman.

(26) Every man-Jack of them. All without exception, even the most insignificant.

(27) Remember poor Jack. Throw a copper to the boys paddling about the jetty or pier, or performing tricks under the hope of getting a small bounty.

II. Applied to boys who act the part of men.

(1) Jack Frost. Frost personified as a mischievous boy.

(2) Jack Sprat. Who bears the same relation to a man as a sprat does to a mackerel or herring.

(3) Jack and Jill (nursery rhyme). Jill or Gill is a contraction of Julienne or Gillian, a common Norman name. (See Jack, VII.)

(5) Jack and the Fiddler (q.v.).

(6) Jack of cards. The Knave or boy of the king and queen of the same suit.

(8) Glym Jack. A link boy who carries a glym. (German, glimmen.) (See Glim.)

(10) The house that Jack built (nursery tale).

III. Applied to the males or inferior animals: as—

Jack-ass, Jack-baker (a kind of owl), Jack or dog fox, Jack-hare, Jack-hern, Jack-rat, Jack-shark, Jack-snipe; a young pike is called a Jack, so also were the male birds used in falconry.

IV. Applied to instruments which supply the place of or represent inferior men or boys:—

(1) A jack. Used instead of a turnspit boy, generally called Jack.

(2) A jack. Used for lifting heavy weights.

(3) Jack. The figure outside old public clocks made to strike the bell.

Strike like Jack oʹ the clock-house, never but in season.”—Strode: Floating Island.

(4) Jack-roll. The cylinder round which the rope of a well coils.

(5) Jack-in-the-basket. The cap or basket on the top of a pole to indicate the place of a sandbank at sea, etc.

(6) Jack-in-the-box. A toy consisting of a box out of which, when the lid is raised, a figure springs.

(7) Boot-jack. An instrument for drawing off boots, which used to be done by inferior servants.

(8) Bottle-jack. A machine for turning the roast instead of a turnspit.

(9) Lifting-jack. A machine for lifting the axle-tree of a carriage when the wheels are cleaned.

(10) Roasting-jack. (See Bottle-jack, 8.)

(11) Smoke-jack. An apparatus in a chimney-flue for turning a spit. It is made to revolve by the upward current of smoke and air.

(12) Jack-chain. A small chain for turning the spit of a smoke-jack.

V. Applied to inferior articles which bear the same relation to the thing imitated as Jack does to a gentleman.

(1) Jack. A rough stool or wooden horse for sawing timber on.

(2) Jack. A small drinking vessel made of waxed leather.

Body of me, I am dry still; give me the jack, boy.”—Beaumont and Fletcher: Bloody Brother, ii. 2.

(3) Jack. Inferior kind of armour. (See Jack, No. VIII.)

(4) A Jack and a half-jack. Counters resembling a sovereign and a half-sovereign. Used at gaming-tables to make up a show of wealth.

(5) Jack-block. A block attached to the topgallant-tie of a ship.

(6) Jack-boots. Cumbrous boots of tough, thick leather worn by fishermen. Jacks or armour for the legs.

(7) Jack-pan. A vessel used by barbers for heating water for their customers.

(8) Jack-plane. A menial plane to do the rough work for finer instruments.

(9) Jack-rafter. A rafter in a hipped roof, shorter than a full-sized one.

(10) Jack-rib. An inferior rib in an arch, being shorter than the rest.

(11) Jack-screw. A large screw rotating in a threaded socket, used for lifting heavy weights.

(12) Jack-timbers. Timbers in a building shorter than the rest.

(13) Jack-towel. A coarse, long towel hung on a roller, for the servantsʹ use.

(15) Jacket (q.v.).

(16) Black jack. A huge drinking vessel. A Frenchman speaking of it says, “The English drink out of their boots.” (Heywood.)

VI. A Term Of Contempt.

(1) Jack-a-lantern or Jack--lantern, the fool fire (ignis fatuus).

(2) Jack-ass. An unmitigated fool.

(3) Jack-at-bowls. The butt of all the players.

(4) Jack-daw. A prating nuisance.

(5) Jack Drum’s entertainment (q.v.).

(6) Jackey. A monkey.

(7) Skip-jack. A toy, an upstart.

(8) The black jack. The turnip-fly.

(9) The yellow jack. The yellow fever.

VII. Used in proverbial phrases.

A good Jack makes a good Jill. A good husband makes a good wife, a good master makes a good servant. Jack, a generic name for man, husband, or master; and Gill or Jill, his wife or female servant.

Every Jack shall have his Jill. Every man may find a wife if he likes; or rather, every country rustic shall find a lass to be his mate.

“Jack shall have his Jill,

Nought shall go ill;

The man shall have his mare again, and all shall be well.”

Shakespeare: Midsummer Night’s Dream, iii. 2.

To play the Jack. To play the rogue or knave; to deceive or lead astray like Jack--lantern, or ignis fatuus.

“——your fairy, which you say is a harmless fairy, has done little better than played the Jack with us.”—Shakespeare: Tempest, iv. 1.

To be upon their jacks. To have the advantage over one. The reference is to the coat of mail quilted with stout leather, more recently called a jerkin.


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Entry taken from Dictionary of Phrase and Fable, edited by the Rev. E. Cobham Brewer, LL.D. and revised in 1895.

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J. (In Punch)
J. J
VIII. Jack
Jack-a-Lantern (A)
Jack-a-napes or Jackanapes = Jack of apes
Jack Brag
Jack Drum’s Entertainment
Jack Horner
Jack Ketch
Jack Pudding

Linking here:

Cheap Jack
Jacquerie (La)
John in the Wad
Little Jack Horner

See Also: