I recently stumbled across the League of Extraordinary Bloggers; a “loose knit, ragtag crew of pop culture bloggers who get together each week and write about a shared topic”. It sounded like fun, so here we go. My début topic? ‘You don’t know Jack’. Can’t argue with that.
The idea was inspired by the return of Jack Bauer to our TV screens with 24 (you’d think at his age they’d give him a little longer; maybe 36, or over the weekend, in his own time?). But hey, this isn’t my party. Anyway, I fell out of love with 24 somewhere in the middle of season 4 so I’m going to have to fall back on my staples for this one.
Jack conjures an image of Britain for me, not cops in California. Along with the flag, it’s a name rich in history: the jack-in-the-green from traditional May Day festivals; the jack in the box, said to have its origins in 14th Century England; and the phrase ‘jack of all trades’ – used by 16th Century author Robert Greene to dismiss some young upstart called William Shakespeare…
These working class connotations aren’t surprising; as a name, Jack hardly has a posh past. The origin of the word saw it widely used to describe a peasant in the 18th Century – hence ‘every man jack of them’ and ‘jackanapes’, meaning rascal. As well as being a name, in English, it has always been used to describe the common man.
When I thought games, weirdly, the obvious ones didn’t spring to mind first. There’s a string of great Jack the Ripper inspired board games (especially the ‘Mr Jack’ series), while the Jack has inspired many special actions in a string of traditional card games. There’s even lawn bowls… But no – my mind turned right back to my childhood, and Jacks.
It’s an ancient game no one can put a proper historical finger on; I guess it’s one of those dexterity reflexes human beings just picked up (sorry) no matter where we lived; dibs, onesies, jackstones, five stones; it’s all pretty much the same game. But why ‘jacks’?
Apparently the oldest western versions were called ‘knucklebones’, named after the sheep’s hock bones the game was then played with. Yum. But this later became ‘chackstones’ (archaic for, yup, ‘chuck stones’), then jackstones, and then jacks. There – now you do know jack.
As a teenager in the ’80s who left school in 1986, the word can only conjure one musical memory – and a silky one at that. Enjoy…
Other entries this week include a very cool one on Spring-heeled Jack from AEIOU and Sometimes Why; a strange encounter with Jack Nicholson from Monster Cafe; and Jack ‘Big Trouble in Little China’ Burton from GI Jigsaw.