Cliche Sunday

Ok, so I lied last week. I never got around to putting out last week’s clichés. Besides the utter excitement of the Patriots remembering suddenly that they were in a Super Bowl and kicking butt, I have no real excuse.

But I am here for the “J’s”. I am actually quite curious to see what I can find, as phrases starting with J do not immediately leap to my mind.

jack palancing: dancing. Now, I had to pick this one because of the actor Jack Palance. I ran across him first in Tango and Cash as the bad guy. My mother says I missed out on his heyday as bad guys, that he used to drip menace just by breathing. So imagine my surprise to find that Jack Palancing actually means dancing. I had something more vicious in mind. I don’t actually see any connection to him originally, as this phrase was part of Irish “rhyming” slang, where as long as it rhymed it needed no other connection to what the phrase indicated. I do have a theory, however, that the meaning of the phrase may be why Jack picked that name. He was born Volodymyr Palahniuk in Pennsylvania. After a number of stage names, he settled on Jack Palance. And proceeded to dance through many westerns as ultimate evil.

jack in the box: the toy that many of us are familiar with, consisting of a box with a doll inside the pops out on a coiled spring when the box opens. As a toy, one could consider a jack in the box innocent fun. As long as one does not fear clowns of course–coulrophobic, that is. The phrase, however, far predates the actual toy and was not terribly complementary in origin.

[There are] railyng bils against the Lords supper, terming it Jack of the boxe, the sacrament of the halter, round Robin, with like unsemely termes.
         John Foxe’s Actes & Monuments, 1563

It was also used as a term to mean a swindler in the sixteenth century, as well as fireworks in the early seventeenth century. It was in 1702 that the meaning that we are familiar with was first used:

Up started every one in his seat, like a Jack in a box…
             Infernal Wanderer

Eventually, someone figured out how to make the phrase into a toy.

the jury is still out: being undecided, particularly if more information is needed. I picked this one because, although it was a bit before my time, this phrase was used often in my parents house. It was a bit before their time as well, as the original jury was in 1850. It was part of a famous trial of Asa Gardiner, a public official accused of ” Misuse and abuse of official power; Neglect of duty; Unfitness for office; Wrongful acts.”  The New York Daily Times printed the headline:
    The [Gardiner Trial] Jury are still out, with no prospect of immediate agreement.

The phrase caught on, and is still popular today.

jump the gun: to start something before preparations are done. Another phrase I heard a lot growing up. Who knew my family was so into phrases starting with J? This phrase became popular in the early twentieth century.  Previous incarnations were “jump ship” and “jump a claim.” The gun became part of the phrase when starter pistols were used for races on tracks, and had quite literal meaning:

False starts were rarely penalized, the pistol generally followed immediately on the signal “Get set!” and so shiftless were the starters and officials that “beating the pistol” was one of the tricks which less sportsmanlike runners constantly practised.
                                      Rowing and Track Athletics, 1905



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