“Before you can say Jack Robinson”…  Who exactly is this man? 

By IHIDERO Victor Osae

There are wordsmiths and there are wordsmiths. It is not the coinage, pinnage, linkage, headage, footage, bootage or any other age that matters in witticism or wordsmithing, but knowing the origin and meaning as well as placing appropriately the essence of expressions or words. A lot has indeed found their ways into the different dictionaries of the world. Such include names of people who once lived. Their presence, even after death still reverberate as people in pristine humanness uses expressions to evoke past histories and events. Example of these persons and expressions that goes along with their names include; Tom, Dick and Harry. Jack and Hyde. Richard and Jane Doe. Guy Faulke. Shylock, Romeo and Juliet andmmany more in Shakespeare’s masterpieces. Why we can more so remember (the) Oedipus complex in Sophocles King Oedipus, it remains sure that the most frequently used expression in this part of the world where men are happy is the expression “before you can say Jack Robinson”…. It is arguably true according to wordsmiths that about twenty-six per cent of the people who speak English use the expression once every day. It is very painful and funny that people who falls under this percentage of the total number of English speaking people does not know the origin of the expression, and the origin of the man whose name they (user) have made popular. The origin of this expressive crisis eludes many etymologists, wordsmiths, and witticists as they fail to provide a standing order in the profession of their calling. The origin of crisis is has been the crisis of origin. Sigmund Freud, firebrand psychologist and thinker to boot, was he exposes the mind of the cresol struggle between mankind, animal kind, the Neaderthals and other homo sapiens in the supreme battle of the concept of man. History, as this writer was taught is a lie agreed upon. Since this is so, controversy rules it ton its very root as etymologists and other literary experts have not come out to give an in-depth elucidation of and about the Jack Robinson’s expression.

Many have traced the expression to the 1700s, though they fail to give information about the identity of Jack Robinson and what necessitated the expression. The expression …”Jack Robinson” is a way of expressing immediacy; something will be done straight away. There is one suggested origin involving the habit of an eccentric gentleman who was renowned for his constant change of mind. He abandoned a call social call and you had to be quick to catch Jack Robinson. This origin is given in 1811 by an anonymous writer who was later refuted by the French. Grose’s Class Dictionary (1785) said he was a man who paid such brief visit that there was scarcely time to announce his arrival before he had departed. One disturbing thing remains that why the world has little or no record of such a man whose name is recalled on a daily basis, people care less to ponder, or wait to listen to themselves especially when they use the inevitable expression. The French have an even less likely version. In the olden days Robinson, from Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe, was a popular name for an umbrella. When these umbrellas were first introduced they were highly fashionable. The story goes that the gentry, at the first sign of the rain, would call their servant, inevitably named “Jacques” Robinson!” The French, who as we know are good with documentation gave even a depthless and weak history of what they call their own, even as it is known by all and sundry that the French are detailed people. Should we accept the French version hook, line and sinker because of its connection with Daniel Defoe’s most popular work? 

There is another possibility, one which is this writer, finds the most acceptable and likely to be considered. It traces Jack Robinson back to the politics of the guillotine. The time when England was recognized for beheading its rebels and dissidents of English authority. Between 1660 and 1679 the officer commanding the Tower of London, a highly dogged and recognized place or house for torture, was one Sir John Robinson. It may be that the speed of beheading with an axe, something regularly done in the Tower at that that time, may be the basis, Jack being a well known form of John. Many however, have misappropriated Jackie Robinson for Jack Robinson. The former being a well known American civil right advocate.

The demystification of Jack Robinson remains an issue to be solved as the name of the faceless fellow is revoked at least, once every day in our lives. If indeed he once lived, would he at all rest in his grave with the revocation of his name in every second around the globe; especially when expressing immediacy? 

The expression “before you can say Jack Robinson” has been linked to many other expressions. Example good enough to describe this other expressions are “it never rains but it pours” which means one stroke of good fortune is often followed by many other instances of luck (or misfortune) when you least expect them. This is more so linked to one of the origin of the Jack Robinson-expression.

Criticisms of the French as well as English origin of “Jacques” as in Jack and “John” as in Jack is still on. Many doubt that John “Jack” Robinson, as commanding officer of the Tower of London, 1660-79, did any beheading himself. Not only was the position considered highly unsuitable for a man of his status, it was also something of a skilled profession. It was not easy to cleanly separate-with one blow- the head from the body. Hence, the invention of the guillotine guaranteeing a clean cut and avoiding horrible death scenes where the victim was still alive eventhough massively wounded. It is believe that some dissident pay money to the hooded executioner in hopes that he would take extra care to give them instant death. But Jack Robinson as many English people believe wpould have been responsible for ordering the executioner to appear at a certain DATE AND TIME. THIS CRITICISM UNKNOWINHLY favoured the immediacy with which Jack Robinson is known for. More are still coming. But who exactly is Jack Robinson? Would Jack Robinson appear before I say Jack Robinson?


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