- masc. proper name, 1218, probably an anglicization of Old French Jacques (which was a diminutive of Latin Jacobus; see Jacob), but in English the name always has been associated with Johan, Jan "John," and some have argued that it is a native formation.
Alliterative coupling of Jack and Jill is from 15c. (Ienken and Iulyan). In England, applied familiarly or contemptuously to anybody (especially one of the lower classes) from late 14c. Later used especially of sailors (1650s; Jack-tar is from 1781). In U.S., as a generic name addressed to an unknown stranger, attested from 1889.
- jack (n.)
- late 14c., jakke "a mechanical device," from the masc. name Jack. The proper name was used in Middle English for "any common fellow" (mid-14c.), and thereafter extended to various appliances replacing servants (1570s). Used generically of men (jack-of-all-trades, 1610s), male animals (1620s, see jackass, jackdaw, etc.), and male personifications (1520s, e.g. Jack Frost, 1826).
As the name of a device for pulling off boots, from 1670s. The jack in a pack of playing cards (1670s) is in German Bauer "peasant." Jack shit "nothing at all" is attested by 1968, U.S. slang. The plant jack-in-the-pulpit is attested by 1837. Jack the Ripper was active in London 1888. The jack of Union Jack is a nautical term for "small flag at the bow of a ship" (1630s).
- jack (v.)
- 1860, jack up "hoist, raise," American English, from the noun (see jack (n.)). Figurative sense "increase (prices, etc.)" is 1904, American English. Related: Jacked; jacking. Jack off (v.) "to masturbate" is attested from 1916, probably from jack (n.) in the sense of "penis."