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Before you could say jack robinson

Posted by James Briggs on November 15, 2001

In Reply to: Before you could say jack robinson posted by John on November 15, 2001

: Does anybody know the origin of the phrase "before you could say Jack Robinson."

This is what I have written in my 'book' of origins:

Robinson: Before you can say "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 often abandoned a social call and you had to be quick to catch Jack Robinson. This is the origin given in 1811.

have an even less likely version. In the old days Robinson (from 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 rain, would call their servant, inevitably named Jacques, to raise the umbrella. The call was, of course, one of "Jacques, Robinson!"
The reader may take or leave these offerings as they please.
There is a third possibility, one which I find the most acceptable. Between 1660 and 1679 the Officer Commanding the Tower of London was one Sir John Robinson. It may be that the speed of beheading with an axe, something regularly done in the Tower at that time, may be the basis, Jack being a well known form of John.