Of kings and queens and...

Ok: Kings and Queens I can figure out. But how did the Jacks get into the picture? And why were spades, hearts, diamonds and clubs chosen?

Check out this link:

Many thanks for the thread, Dirty. Any thoughts on the Jacks?

I used to have a French deck of cards. If memory serves me, the Jack was a “Valet” with a “V” in the corners. I suppose in English, “Jack” was just slang for a serving man?

“Jack” used to be “knave.” Until the more popular “jack” took over. I can imagine that two 'K’s in a deck would cause some confusion, but I don’t know why “Jack” was chosen, though (maybe just an English name for a regular Joe).

jti: the jack is indeed called a valet in French, which, if translated into English could become either a squire (for a knight) or equerry (for royalty). Whereas the definition I get from my Collins English Dictionary says: “one of four playing cards (…) bearing the picture of a young prince; knave”. Which would seem more logical (King, Queen, Prince) than its French equivalent. Although I’m still a bit puzzled by the equivalency jack<=>prince…

Breakthrough! From www.m-w.com


From this, we get valet=knave=jack.

Thanks Strainger. The “(young) prince theory” still looks more logically plausible to me, but your input at least clears up the valet=jack=knave aspect of it…

Actually, omniscientnot I found a source earlier today stating that the original designation of the jack was indeed a knave (i.e. servant). Unfortunately, I’m having trouble relocating the URL tonight. I’ll try my search again later and provide you with any links I come up with. Basically, the “young prince” thing is an error.

And don’t forget that in the original Tarot deck (n.b. no evangelical rants, please – whatever else may or may not be true about the Tarot deck, it is unquestionably the ancestor of the 52-card deck) there is a Knight between the Queen and the Knave.

And “knave” was in use in England as recently as the 1860’s – vide Alice in Wonderland.

John W. Kennedy
“Compact is becoming contract; man only earns and pays.”
– Charles Williams

WAG – jacks represent the quasi-royal hangers on, sort of like Edmund in Blackadder II.

I forgot to mention in my earlier post: In one of the early chapters of Great Expectations, Esmeralda teases Pip for calling the “knaves,” “jacks.”

Given their respective social standings, it may be that the upper classes used “knave”, and the lower classes used the slang, “jack.”

While playing poker in Sweden I thought I had a full house, when I laid down the cards to my surprise I had 2 Jacks and a King, not the 3 Kings a thought that I had.

In a Swedish deck of cards (kort lek) the Jack is shown as Kn (Knect - not sure of spelling) and the king as K (kung). You can see the problem for a first timer from America who doesn’t fan the cards.