What is a "Jack"

In a suit of playing cards. He’s dressed like nobility. Is he a Prince, a Duke, a Baron, an Earl, or a Marquis? The wikipedia article claims they’re based on famous knights. Is a jack a knight? Why is it called a Jack? Is a knave the same thing?

Jacks and knaves are the same.

What I’ve heard was that the designation changed from Knave when a publisher opted to use J as the index character for knaves instead of Kn. (K is already taken by the King.) So people started calling the knaves by J names, and Jack became popular.

The Knave or Jack is actually based on the Tarot card called a Page. A page from this era was essentially a knight in training and as such, was not a common servant, but was actually a person of social standing (commoners did not become knights).

As for why “Jack?” The name has been used as a generic male reference for many centuries and exists today in terms like jackrabbit and jack of all trades.

That’s exactly why I always thought that this knave was a commoner.

…lumberjack, jack o’lantern, jack straw (scarecrow), every man jack, jack tar, jack-in-the-box…

… Jack of all trades, Jumping Jack, Jackhammer, Union Jack, Monterey Jack…

…jackanapes, Jack Frost, Jack Ketch, Jack o’ the clock, all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy, Jack and Jill…

Jackknife and jackboots.

In a flash, at a trumpet crash,
I am all at once what Christ is,
since he was what I am, and
This Jack, joke, poor potsherd,
patch, matchwood, immortal diamond,
Is immortal diamond.

Gerard Manley Hopkins

Actually, a typical arrangement for tarot decks which generally survives into modern renditions has 4 court cards per suit, and well as 22 major arcana for a total of 78. The court cards are usually King, Queen, Knight and Page. The Knight and Page got merged into the modern playing card Jack.

FWIW, the original 78-card Tarot suit (still used in some card games, notably French tarot (duh)) goes : Jack, Knight, Queen, King. Why the knight card got the boot in 52-card decks, or why they ditched the knight instead of the jack, I do not know.

A propos of nothing, in French the jack is known as the “valet”, meaning manservant or butler. You know valet parking ? Same word.

21 arcana. The last card is the Fool/Joker.

I used to have a set of Dutch playing cards in which the “jacks” had the letter B on them, instead of J. The queens had a V, I think, but I can’t remember what letter was on the kings and the aces. Does anyone know what the B and V might have stood for, and if they translate straightforwardly to “jack” and “queen”?

According to the Dutch Wikipedia, the letters stand for Boer and Vrouw. Boer meaning farmer, and vrouw meaning woman or wife. Alternatively, they are called Dame (lady) and Zot (fool).

Disclaimer: I don’t speak much Dutch, so someone else might have more accurate translations of the names.

Not quite. The tarot deck was a parallel development, and there is no evidence that the modern Anglo-French deck evolved from it. Some versions of non-tarot decks at the time tarot was invented had King, Queen, and Knave, some had King, Knight, and Knave. German cards even today have three male court cards called King, Over, and Under.

“Major arcana” is an occult term, when speaking of tarot used for playing games, they are simply called trumps. Game playing was their original purpose, and they are still used for that in parts of Europe. Only in the US and possibly other anglophone countries, in which the games never caught on, are they thought of primarily as fortune-telling devices.

  1. The Fool is 0, except when he isn’t.

one (0 or 22) The Fool
1 The Magician
2 The High Priestess
3 The Empress
4 The Emperor
5 The Hierophant
6 The Lovers
7 The Chariot
8 or 11 Strength
9 The Hermit
10 Wheel of Fortune
11 or 8 Justice
12 The Hanged Man
13 Death
14 Temperance
15 The Devil
16 The Tower
17 The Star
18 The Moon
19 The Sun
20 Judgement
21 The World

Flapjacks, Hungry Jacks

Depends which tarot decks we’re talking about I guess :). Cartomancy decks ? Yes. Playing cards ? Trumps are 1-21 with the Fool being its own unique, unnumbered self.

(In related pointless trivia, the suits in traditional cartomancy decks aren’t hearts/diamonds/clubs/spades but cups/coins/staves/swords respectively)

Jack-in-the-Green (Thanks, Ian)

Jack Sprat

Jack shit

Jack and the beanstalk