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Re: Jack, the flag

Posted by TheFallen on November 15, 2002

In Reply to: Re: Jack, the flag posted by Bookworm on November 15, 2002

: : : I am US-born, but my father was from Glasgow, and he often used this term. I took it to mean a sort of cocky, dandy, self-confident sort of fellow. Does it refer to some historical figure or is it just a generic, British idiom?

: : I think it's generic, rather than historical. You're right about cocky and self-confident, but less so about dandy. A Jack the lad is also somewhat roguish, a person who gets up to minor sins and maybe even minor crimes, albeit the expression is more fond than pejorative - you usually can't help but like a Jack the lad. I have no proof at all, but I suspect the expression arose from the joining of two separate terms - in the UK, "Jack" was used to refer to the ordinary man in the street, as in "I'm all right, Jack" (a little like the US usage of Joe, as in he's a regular Joe, I suppose). Similarly "lad" in the UK is still used to describe someone who's loud and boisterous - "he's a bit of a lad" and "laddish" are commonly used to this day. We even have the recent coinage of "ladettes" to describe lager-swilling brash twenty-something girls out in droves at night.

: Speaking of which, why is the British flag called the Union Jack? Or maybe it's The Union, Jack? :)

Strictly speaking, it's only called the Union jack when it's flown on a boat or ship. At all others times it should correctly be referred to as the Union flag. Jack in this sense is a generic word for any flag flown from a ship (attached to a jackstaff, usually), although especially one that denotes nationality. As to the Union part? The flag is a amalgamated overlay of the cross of St. George (patron saint of England), the cross of St. Andrew (patron saint of Scotland) and the cross of St. Patrick (patron saint of Ireland). The Welsh don't get a look-in with their dragon, maybe because they were never a kingdom as such, or maybe because it was just too hard to incorporate.

More detailed flag information on the Union flag available at the link below (which I've just noticed answers the Welsh issue).