“Jack the Lad”

Among the several unfamiliar (to me) British expressions used in Justin Peters’ Slate piece (discussed below) was one used by Janet Maslin yesterday in her New York Times review of the memoirs of Rod Stewart, CBE:

“Mr. Stewart’s antics have earned him a richly deserved Jack the Lad reputation.”

In considering the expression, the OED suggests that the reader should “perhaps compare the expression Jack’s the Lad, found in a nautical song,” which it dates from the 1840s and from which it quotes this line: “For if ever fellow took delight in swigging, gigging, kissing, drinking, fighting, Damme I’ll be bold to say that Jack’s the lad.” The definition: “a conspicuously self-assured, carefree, and often brash young man; a ‘chancer’.”

Sounds about right for our Rodney Roderick (except for the “young” bit).

16 thoughts on ““Jack the Lad”

  1. Well, he was young once, and he’s been married how many times? and how many children, in and out of wedlock (as people used to say) ?
    Definitely a good example of the popular conception of a “Jack the lad”.

  2. I’ve never come across “Jack the lad” in my wanderings, but I am familiar with “He’s quite the lad,” meant to convey the same packet of information.

  3. I’d suggest that you folks widen your reading and britcom watching. Jack’s been quite the lad for a long time in media circulated in these Colonies.

    1. GCE is General Certificate of Education. CSE was the old Certificate of Secondary Education (seen as a lesser qualification). The two were subsumed into the modern GCSE in .. when .. 1990-something, was it ?

    1. Yeah, when we were at school, we had GCSE and GCE A-Level. Also AS-Level which is half an A-Level. GCE on its own means General Certificate of Education. S means Secondary. So GCE on its own would be ambiguous.

      1. Before the GCSE there were GSE’s (O-levels) and GCE’s, which were a lower level than GSE’s. The two qualifications were combined to become GCSE’s. The joke in Only Fools was that two GCEs were nothing to brag about.

      2. Sorry – got that completely wrong! I blame my age! The two qualifications were GCE (O-level) and CSE! The CSE was still the lower qualification.

  4. When I was at school we had GSC, the General Schools Certificate. Everything changes, but it remains the same.

  5. There was a 1970s northern England electric folk-rock band called Jack the Ladformed by ex-members of the more successful Lindisfarne, who’d had a no.1 album (Fog On The Tyne) in the UK. Neither outfit seems to have troubled the US charts much.

  6. ‘Jack’ is a slang term for the devil (in the same vein as ‘Old Nick’) from at least the mid 16th c. Compare Jack-O-Lantern and Jack-in-the-box , Jack-the-lad doesn’t imply evil or malice in modern usage, but it does imply carelessness and bad consequences.

  7. A variant is “Jack-my-lad”, or “Jack-me-lad”, as it is often pronounced.

    I have never heard a female version, but “Jill the Lass” might serve.

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