Jack Robinson is a name present in two common figures of speech. When referring to Jack Robinson, it is used to represent quickness. In contrast, the phrase "(A)round Jack Robinson's barn" has the opposite connotation, implying slowness, as it is often used to refer to circumlocution, circumvention, or doing things in roundabout or unnecessarily complicated ways.[1]

Etymology and common variants

Connoting quickness

Multiple citations explain references to Jack Robinson as meaning quickness of thought or deed. The normal usage is, "(something is done) faster than you can say Jack Robinson", or otherwise, "before you can say Jack Robinson". The phrase can be traced back to the eighteenth century.[2]

Examples
Variants

The similar phrase, "Before you can say 'Knife!'", dates from at least 1850, when it appeared in Charles Dickens' Household Words.[7]

In the late nineteenth century we have Sooner than ye'll say “Jock Hector!”, He'll them describe or draw their picture. [8]

Connoting slowness or roundaboutness

In contrast, the phrase "(A)round Jack Robinson's barn" has the opposite connotation, implying slowness, as it is often used to refer to circumlocution, circumvention, or doing things in roundabout or unnecessarily complicated ways. In response to an inquiry by Ken Greenwald (a forum moderator at WordWizard), Joan Houston Hall (Editor of the Dictionary of American Regional English (DARE) project at the University of Wisconsin at Madison) researched the term's etymology. Her findings are listed below, chronologically.[9]

Examples
Variant

Hall also found numerous references to a more common variant, "Robin Hood's barn",[10] which she noted can be found in the Dictionary of American Regional English, Vol. 4, page 608.

References

  1. ^ Greenwald, Ken (Moderator) & Houston Hall, Joan (Editor of The Dictionary of American Regional English) (May 28, 2007). "Jack Robinson's Barn or Robin Hood's Barn". WordWizard. Retrieved 8 September 2019.((cite web)): CS1 maint: uses authors parameter (link)
  2. ^ Ammer, Christine. "Before you can say Jack Robinson". The American Heritage Book of Idioms.
  3. ^ "Jack Robinson". The Word Detective.
  4. ^ Ammer, Christine. "Before you can say Jack Robinson". The American Heritage Book of Idioms.
  5. ^ The Edinburgh Review, Volume 25 (1815), A. and C. Black, p. 213.
  6. ^ Major, John (2012). My Old Man - A Personal History of Music Hall. William Collins. ISBN 9780007450138.
  7. ^ Fox, Franklin & Wills, William Henry (7 December 1850). "A Cape Coast Cargo". Household Words Magazine. Putman. II (37).((cite journal)): CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  8. ^ C. Spence Poems (1898) 147:
  9. ^ Greenwald, Ken (Moderator) & Houston Hall, Joan (Editor of The Dictionary of American Regional English) (May 28, 2007). "Jack Robinson's Barn or Robin Hood's Barn". WordWizard. Retrieved 8 September 2019.((cite web)): CS1 maint: uses authors parameter (link)
  10. ^ Greenwald, Ken (Moderator) & Houston Hall, Joan (Editor of The Dictionary of American Regional English) (May 28, 2007). "Jack Robinson's Barn or Robin Hood's Barn". WordWizard. Retrieved 8 September 2019.((cite web)): CS1 maint: uses authors parameter (link)