Printable Version
Pronunciation: -k-nayps Hear it!

Part of Speech: Noun

Meaning: 1. A domesticated ape or monkey. 2. A knave, rogue, blackguard, in other words, an annoyingly impudent (young) person.

Notes: Given the rich variety of insults that the English language presents us, it is a shame that our preference tends more and more to common vulgarities. This word is an excellent substitute for some of the commoner insults, and deserves a more exalted place in our insult inventory. Jackanapes are always up to no-good jackanapery when they behave jackanapishly. Most often it is used to refer to an annoyingly impudent and, usually, young person.

In Play: Please help stamp out the simple-minded four-letter insults we are swimming in by saying things like this: "Jack is the jackanapes who busted our jack-o'-lantern last Halloween." Unfortunately, jackanapes themselves abound: "Lending policies of the jackanapes on Wall Street brought the world economic system to its knees just after the turn of the century." Now, isn't that more civil than what most people call them?

Word History: This word came from a derisive nickname for William de la Pole, the first Duke of Suffolk, murdered in 1450. He was called "Jack Napes" because a block and chain similar to those used on trained monkeys of the time were on his family coat of arms. In those days Jack was slang for man, similar to guy or dude today. We still see it in such phrases as "jack-in-the-box", "every man Jack of them", and a particular favorite of October's, "jack-o'-lantern". The origin of the A and N are still in dispute. The A probably came from a reduction of the preposition of, as we pronounce the O in jack-o'-lantern and will-o'-the-wisp. Since a becomes an before a vowel, N may well have been added fortuitously in mistaken response to that demand.

Dr. Goodword,

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