The word "Jack" is not only a name, but "jack" is also a verb with versatile meanings depending on prepositions and context.

  • to jack
  • to jack sth. up
  • to jack sth. in
  • to jack through
  • to jack up a price
  • to jack into place
  • to get jack of sth.
  • ...

and I did not include the vulgar examples. In addition, there are many meanings as a noun:

  • playing card
  • plug (electricity)
  • jack boot
  • jack bush
  • jack head
  • ...

This lists are far from complete.

I wonder why this particular word has so many different meanings, and if there is an answer to this question.

The name Jack appears to be of French origin ("Jaque"), but that certainly does not explain all of the above items.

  • 4
    Because it's a jack of all trades.
    – Hot Licks
    Jun 24, 2018 at 1:08
  • Just a normal distribution. When you have a million words, some of them are bound to have more meanings than others. And if you think that a dozen meanings count as "many", please do not look up set, go, get, run, turn, take or put.
    – RegDwigнt
    Jun 24, 2018 at 1:22
  • Because of its etymological history: etymonline.com/word/jack
    – user 66974
    Jun 24, 2018 at 5:40
  • worldwidewords.org/qa/qa-jac3.htm Not to be missed.
    – Lambie
    Jun 24, 2018 at 23:31
  • A question I've often wondered about too. There's also jack fish, a term used for different fish in different regions but in my experience always a large predator. It's also used with professions: lumber jack for example. Yeats once wrote a line that goes "Malachi stilt jack am I".
    – Al Maki
    Jun 25, 2018 at 0:07

2 Answers 2


The first meaning of the noun, jack, listed by Oxford Dictionaries, is a device used for lifting heavy weights, loads, merchandise, etc. Today the most common form is a car jack, floor jack or garage jack, used by car owners and professional car mechanics to lift vehicles in order to change tires or perform repairs. The first attestation in the Oxford English Dictionary of jack in the sense 'a machine, usually portable, for lifting heavy weights by force acting from below' is from 1679.

From Wikipedia

  • The name Jack is unusual in the English language for its frequent use as a noun or verb for many common objects and actions, and in many compound words and phrases.

  • Examples include a car jack, the game jacks or the jack in bowls.

  • The word is also used in other words and phrases such as: apple jack, hijack, jack of clubs (playing card), jack straw (scarecrow), jack tar (sailor), jack-in-the-box, jack-of-all-trades, jack o'lantern, jackdaw, jackhammer, jackknife, jackpot, lumberjack, union jack (the British flag), etc.

  • The history of the word is linked to the name being used as a by-name for a man


From Middle English jakke (“a term of familiarity or contempt; guy; a mechanical turnspit; a brass coin”), from the name Jack.

The proper name was used in Middle English for "any common fellow," and thereafter extended to various appliances which do the work of common servants (1570s).

masc. proper name, attested by 1218, probably via Anglo-French Jake, Jaikes, from Old French Jacques (which was a diminutive of Latin Jacobus), but in English the name always has been regarded as a familiar form of John, and some have argued that it is a native formation.

In Middle English spelled Jakke, Jacke, etc., and pronounced as two syllables ("Jackie")

jack (verb)

1860, jack up "hoist, raise, lift with a jack," American English, from jack (n.) in the appliance sense. Figurative sense "increase (prices, etc.)" is 1904, American English. Related: Jacked; jacking. Jack off (v.) "masturbate" is attested from 1916, probably from jack (n.) in the old slang sense of "(erect) penis."


Nouns and verbs derived from J/jack

jackass, jackball, jackboot, jackdaw, jackfish, applejack, blackjack, flapjack, hijack, jackanapes, jackaroo, jacket, jack-hammer, jack in, jack-in-the-box, jack-knife, jack-o'-lantern, jackman, jackpot, jack off, jack-up, jack-shit, jackstraw, jock, jockey, john, lumberjack, natterjack, skipjack, steeplejack, union jack


Your Jack is pretty similar to Joe and John.

The John= bathroom

A John Doe = an unidentified body.

A John = a prostitute's client.

A cup of Joe = coffee.

A sloppy Joe = a hamburger.

your average Joe = a standard/normal guy.


I guess very common names make for very common expressions.

Though many examples of yours derive from the verb jack and not from the proper noun Jack.

  • This seems to be a uniquely American use of these words?
    – PeterX
    May 30, 2020 at 6:16
  • 1
    That is correct, sir/ May 30, 2020 at 21:24

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