April 7, 2020

J is for Jack Jumped

        (My theme for this year’s A to Z Blog Challenge is traditional English language nursery rhymes, and their block printed illustrations.  Also, I need to say that I have been incredibly frustrated this year by other blogs not taking my comments.  I have been visiting dozens of blogs and leaving comments which, if I do say so myself, are full of wit and wisdom, fascinating relevant content, and cheerful encouragement… and yet at least half the time they seem to disappear into the ether after I hit “post,” and fail to show up on your blogs.  So please believe that I have been visiting your blog and enthusing over it in the comments, but apparently to no avail.  I will keep trying.)

Jack, be nimble!  Jack, be quick!
Jack jumped over the candlestick!

        This is why parents have to love their children unconditionally.
        With only two short lines, the question is Why?  What’s going on here, anyway?  It was trying to imagine a scenario in which this was plausible that led me to my illustration.  Most illustrations place the candlestick on the floor for ease of jumping, but really, who puts a candlestick on the floor?  So I left my candle on the table where it belongs, and put Jack up there, too, where he definitely doesn’t belong, much to his mother’s dismay.
        Apparently this not an entirely random rhyme, however.  It is plausible that the rhyme derives from a custom of jumping over a candle at fairs or wedding feasts.  If you jumped over without extinguishing the flame, you would have good luck for the coming year.  If the flame went out, you were in trouble.  Presumably also in trouble if you burnt yourself, or knocked the candle over and burnt down the hall, although no one seems to mention that possibility.  Sometimes it doesn’t take a psychic to point out misfortune.
        As for nimble Jack himself, he could be any Tom, Dick, or Harry.  Jack, which originally was a nickname of John, Jacob, or other J names, was so common and ordinary that it was used to refer to any man and to Everyman.  Think of phrases such as “Jack in the box,” “Jack in the pulpit,”  “Jack of all trades,” “Jack-o’-lantern,” and “lumberjack.”  There are certainly lots of other Jacks in nursery rhymes, as well, some of whom we will meet as we proceed through the alphabet, so keep your eyes open for them.
        As one of the most popular baby names in English-speaking countries for the entire twenty-first century so far, Jacks are everywhere.  How many of you have an immediate family member called Jack, or are a Jack yourself?
        A final note for impressionable children: Never jump over a lighted candle unattended.

[Pictures: Jack, Be Nimble, rubber block print by AEGN, 2002;
Wood block print by Joan Hassall, c 1955 (Image from Opie, The Oxford Nursery Rhyme Book);
Illustration from Mother Goose’s Nursery Rhymes, published by George Routledge and Sons, 1877 (Image from Internet Archive).]

9 comments:

Kathe W. said...

No Jack's in our family......lot's of Johns but not a Jack in the slew of John's. Little John, Big John, Johnnie, Jay, etc. Cannot imaging jumping over a candlestick ever! Always wondered about that.
Enjoying your blog- I too am having issues with commenting. Sometimes they work and other times not- and some folks don't even have a comment option . Oh well! Take care-see you tomorrow!

A Tarkabarka Hölgy said...

So, a nursery rhyme descendant of the fire-leaping customs of Europe, maybe?...

The Multicolored Diary

Frédérique said...

Great final advice ;D
I noticed a lot of AtoZ blogs are Wordpress, and to comment you need a wordpress acount. No problem with me, I received well your comments ;))
J is for Jewelry

Jade Li said...

I like your "take" on the rhyme, where the candle remains on the table. I think I got one or more of your comments. It is aggravating to take the trouble to comment, only to see it disappear into the ether. I'm glad you're reading my blog and learning about essential oils :)

Dave Roller said...

I really enjoyed the illustrations and explanations.

Anne E.G. Nydam said...

Zalka, it's not uncommon for frivolous minor customs to be descended from serious major customs, so you could be right.

It seems to be sort of random which blogs give me trouble, not just WordPress vs Blogger. However I've figured out that if I just don't include the link to my blog, I can get the comments to take.
Thanks for all the comments here!

Deborah Weber said...

I was convinced as a child that Jack was a liar. I was sure "liar liar pants on fire" was all about him. I somehow managed to ignore there are indeed many other Jacks in other rhymes. Maybe it shouldn't be jack of all trades, but Jack of many tales.

Jai said...

That is indeed an interesting note on the Jacks of this world. There are also other sayings like 'Jack of all trades and master of none'. Very often I also find JAck and John used interchangeably.

Anne E.G. Nydam said...

Deborah, that cracks me up - it's so funny what conclusions children draw! And I like the phrase "Jack of many tales."

Jai, you are right - there are lots and lots of words and phrases with "Jack" in them. "every man Jack," "before you can say Jack Robinson," "Jack Frost," and more...