Posted by: Jack Henry | February 3, 2016

Editor’s Corner: Jack

This is a portion of an article from Daily Writing Tips that I thought I should pass along, since here at Jack Henry we like honoring our founder with terms about “jack.”

I’ve cut this down a little (and removed some of the naughty words) to provide a work-friendly read. For the full article, click here: If You Don’t Know Jack, You’re a Jackwagon.

A recent news article prompted me to research the use of jack as a catch-all term…

All usages of jack in English, it turns out, derive from the proper name Jack, a variant of the common names John (from English, but ultimately derived from the Hebrew name Yochanan, also the source of the name Jonathan) and Jacques (the latter of which, from France, is the origin of the word jacket). The ubiquity of these names in medieval England resulted in its use as a general term of address for the common man. (In Middle English, it was spelled various ways with an e at the end and pronounced “Jackie,” hence the diminutive form of the nickname.)

The Scots equivalent, Jock, was the origin of the word jockey, used to describe someone who rides or drives a horse in a race or, by extension, operates a vehicle or a tool (as in “disk jockey,” the origin of the entertainment term DJ, also spelled deejay). To jockey, on the analogy of a jockey’s riding strategy, is to maneuver or negotiate for advantage.

From the usage of Jack as a generic name stems such terms as lumberjack for a worker who cuts trees down and steeplejack for someone specializing in working on tall structures, jack-of-all-trades, referring to a person who is skilled at multiple types of jobs or tasks, and jack-o’-lantern (“jack-of-the-lantern,” originally synonymous with will-o’-the-wisp) and jack-in-the-box, the name for a toy and a carved pumpkin lit from within respectively, as well as “Jack Frost” as a personification of wintry cold and “Jack the Ripper” as a nickname for a notorious serial killer in Victorian London. (Jack-in-the-box was originally slang for a con man who switched out a full box for an empty one, and it acquired numerous other senses, too.)

The name also became associated with sailors in the designation “Jack Tar,” thanks to the fact that men of the sea generally had a scent of tar about them. Fictional characters given the Everyman appellation in tales and nursery rhymes include the heroes in “Jack and the Beanstalk” and “Jack the Giant Killer” and personages in “Jack Sprat” and “Jack and Jill.”

Jack was also applied to the lowest-ranking face cards in a deck of playing cards (which is the origin of jackpot, meaning “a prize,” and hence jack, a slang term for money) and to various small objects, including flags (as in “Union Jack”) and the game of jacks and its playing pieces.

Jack Henry & Jerry Hall

Kara Church

Technical Editor, Advisory

Symitar Documentation Services

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