jacksy /’dʒæksɪ/

Poster for Midnight CowboyOne of my favorite movies is John Schlesinger’s Midnight Cowboy with John Voight and Dustin Hoffman, which won – deservedly – three Oscars for Best Director, Best Picture, and Best Screenplay. It also resulted in Oscar nominations for Voight and Hoffman, who lost out to John Wayne for his performance as Rooster Cogburn in True Grit.

Six years earlier, Schlesinger directed Billy Liar, a semi-comedy based on the novel by the prolific Yorkshire-born writer, Keith Waterhouse. At one point in the novel, we hear the phrase “Why don’t you tell the boring little man to stick the job up his jacksy?”

The word is relatively young, appearing first in 1896 in Farmer and Henley’s Slang IV where they offer the definition; “Jacksy-pardy, the posteriors.” The next reference according to the OED appears in 1943 as service slang (army, navy, air) where we see “Jacksie, service slang for ‘rear,’ ‘tail,’ or ‘bottom.’ (Hunt and Pringle, Service Slang).

Poster for AlfieIn 1966, Michael Caine played the eponymous anti-hero of the movie Alfie, based on the play by Bill Naughton, who, like Waterhouse, wrote working-class dramas. And at one point, Alfie says “She’s sitting there on her jacksie, reading one of those colour” things out of a newspaper.”

The etymology of jacksy is unclear. The OED simply offers “[f. JACK n.1 + -SY.], the latter of which being reasonably understandable as a diminutive, but the former remains obscure.  The noun “jack” has over 35 entries, none one of which refers directly to the anal regions. The closest seems to be the definition of a “jack” used in telegraphy as a input port:

A socket or receptacle having one or more pairs of terminals and designed so that insertion of a suitable plug enables a device to be quickly introduced into a circuit.

This is similar to its use today in the field of media equipment. But the original definition appeared in 1891 in Poole’s Practical Telegraphy Handbook where he writes “The effect of inserting a plug in one of the jacks is that the end of the plug lifts the line spring R from pin Y.”

I'm a jack - see?

The metaphorical distance between an input jack and an anus is not that far – from jack to jacksy wouldn’t take much imagination. Against this is the fact that the Handbook was printed in the US and the slang appears to be restricted to the US. But Farmer and Henley’s book on slang was an Anglo-American production, with John Stephen Farmer being an American and William Ernest Henley an English poet and writer. So it is possible that jacksy could have made its way across the pond.

Alas, the OED suggests a gap of almost 50 years between the jacksy-pardy of Farmer and Henley, and the jacksy of Hunt and Pringle’s Service Slang of 1943. If jacksy had been around in England, it seems to have been at least under the written radar. Or it could be that the 1940’s jacksy represents a separate emergence of the word, with the original being a “hopeful monster” that failed to evolve and the new one appearing during the war years. The “jack as insert location” could still be a plausible explanation, particularly with the rapid development of telecommunications between the 1880’s and the 1940’s.

If I were an academic with a library and a grant, I could probably do a much better investigation into the origin of jacksy but my trips to the local University library – excellent as it is – has to take place outside my real job, which doesn’t pay me to be an etymologist. C’est la vie, as those French chappies say.

Should anyone be in a position to provide me with examples of jacksy or jacksie between 1890 and 1940 I’d be extraordinarily grateful. In the meantime, feel free to disagree with this analysis and offer a jacksy-free “up yours!”


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