Wizard
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September 22nd, 2011 at 4:43:47 PM permalink
I've been playing card games for about 40 years about I don't think I ever stopped to ponder what is a Jack until recently. Wikipedia tells us the term used to be Knave, and was designated with a Kn. In 1864 an English card maker used a J instead of Kn, to avoid confusion, with the J standing for Jack. Wiki suggests the term comes from a game called All Fours. However, that would lead me to wonder why they used the term Jack in that game instead of Knave. Also, what did a Jack mean in that game?

What is a Knave then, you might ask. According to Wiki it is "a male servant of royalty." Perhaps there is a connection with the term jack as used in "jack of all trades."

Perhaps it would help to shed light on this mystery to know what they call jacks in other languages. In Spanish it is called a Sota, which I believe means helper. A bit off topic, but the word for King and Queen in Spanish are Rey and Reina, respectively. However, what letter do they represent the two ranks with on Spanish cards? It could get confusing if they were both an R.

I have a deck of cards here from the Casino de Montreal and here is what the French decks do:

King = Roi (R)
Queen = ? (D). The word for Queen is Reine. They probably didn't want another R, so what does the D stand for?
Jack = ? (V). No clue what that V stands for.

How about other languages besides English, French, and Spanish? Let's try to get to the bottom of this people!
"For with much wisdom comes much sorrow." -- Ecclesiastes 1:18 (NIV)
Nareed
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September 22nd, 2011 at 4:53:02 PM permalink
Quote: Wizard

Wikipedia tells us the term used to be Knave, and was designated with a Kn.



I think in the "Alice in Wonderland" books one charater is the Knave of Hearts. Not in the Disney movie, though.


Quote:

Perhaps it would help to shed light on this mystery to know what they call jacks in other languages. In Spanish it is called a Sota, which I believe means helper.



I've heard of it. The term may be used in Spain and other countries, but in Mexico it's now called "Jack" (I imagine some people spell is as 'Yak')

Quote:

A bit off topic, but the word for King and Queen in Spanish are Rey and Reina, respectively. However, what letter do they represent the two ranks with on Spanish cards? It could get confusing if they were both an R.



Beats me. I've played plenty of card games locally, but never read anything about them in Spanish. I suppose Q and K, as playing cards are printed that way. of course, most playing cards yuo find here are imported from elsewhere. For a long while you almost only found Bycicle brand cards. I still have lots of them at home.
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Tiltpoul
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September 22nd, 2011 at 4:55:04 PM permalink
Quote: Wizard


Queen = ? (D). The word for Queen is Reine. They probably didn't want another R, so what does the D stand for?

How about other languages besides English, French, and Spanish? Let's try to get to the bottom of this people!



My guess (no research or knowledge of French) is D stands for Dama or the French equivalent of Dame.
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Doc
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September 22nd, 2011 at 7:03:08 PM permalink
It's likely not directly the answer to the question, but some of this could be related. Here is a paragraph taken from a reference book I use occasionally.
Quote: Word and Phrase Origins, by Robert Hendrickson

jack. Jack, for money in general, is an Americanism first recorded in 1859, but the expression is probably older, possibly deriving from the expression to make one's jack, "to succeed in one's endeavors," first attested in 1778. This expression, in turn, may come from the British slang jack for "a farthing and a counter used at gaming tables," which dates back to about 1700.


The reference to a counter used at gaming tables made me think it could be a lead-in for the naming of a card.
weaselman
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September 22nd, 2011 at 7:08:42 PM permalink
Actually, when I was in UK, some years ago as a student, and played some cards with a bunch of my roommates, they called Jacks "Knave", so, I am thinking "Jack" is really more of an Americanism ...

Quote: Wizard



King = Roi (R)
Queen = ? (D). The word for Queen is Reine. They probably didn't want another R, so what does the D stand for?
Jack = ? (V). No clue what that V stands for.


D = Dame (lady), V = Valet (roughly, same meaning as knave in English).

That's what they call them in Russian too (pretty much Cyrillic transliteration of the French words. The word for Dame is also used in spoken language, meaning "lady", same as in French, "valet" in Russian is only used as the name of the card, although I think it used to be a more common word a couple hundred years ago).



One way to find out what they call it in other languages without recruiting native speakers is clicking on the language names on the left hand side of the Wikipedia page you linked to :)
For example:

German: Bube
Polish: Walet
Netherland: Boer
Norvegian: Knekt
Estonian: Soldat
Esperanto: Fanto
Ido: Pajo
Low Saxon: Buur
etc.
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FleaStiff
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September 22nd, 2011 at 10:12:37 PM permalink
Knave was a nobleman under arms in the royal household which is why the Jack of Diamonds is the only Jack depicted bearing arms.

The English still use knave from time to time, I believe.

I thought the V was viscount but never really thought about it much. I do know that there is a game called Valet wherein Jacks are the highest card so perhaps I'm wrong about viscount.
thecesspit
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September 23rd, 2011 at 12:09:55 AM permalink
Jack is an older slang word in English English for a common man. Jack tar. Jack-in-the-green. It's also a pretty popular first name over there these days.
"Then you can admire the real gambler, who has neither eaten, slept, thought nor lived, he has so smarted under the scourge of his martingale, so suffered on the rack of his desire for a coup at trente-et-quarante" - Honore de Balzac, 1829
waltomeal
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September 23rd, 2011 at 1:22:11 AM permalink
In my opinion, the definition of "Knave" always came out of the Dylan song "Lily, Rosemary, and the Jack and the Hearts." Look there my friends.
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heather
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September 23rd, 2011 at 7:03:00 AM permalink
Quote: Wizard

Wiki suggests the term comes from a game called All Fours. However, that would lead me to wonder why they used the term Jack in that game instead of Knave. Also, what did a Jack mean in that game?



I've been doing some work on Wikipedia's History of Games articles (*cough*), and I would suggest that you be extremely cautious in accepting some of that information without at least a grain of salt, particularly in reference to card games and games of chance. Some of the information is very dated, some is just wrong, and some of it is deliberately wrong or exaggerated (the dating of any game originating in China, for instance, is often pushed back to an absurd degree of antiquity for nationalistic purposes).

FWIW, in the Spanish (Baraja) deck, the Jack is called a Sota and looks like a page. Tarot decks have both a Page and a Knight between the 10 and the Queen, again FWIW.

I'll also mention that a line from Alice in Wonderland comes to mind here -- "She calls the knaves jacks, this one does", suggesting that the name change was somewhat recent to Lewis Carroll's time.
Wizard
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September 23rd, 2011 at 9:05:41 AM permalink
Thanks for all the responses. I asked my Spanish tutor this question and she produced a deck of cards from Argentina. For the suits they had cups, swords, a wooden club, and a round thing that looked like a coin but she called it "gold."

For the "face cards" we had only pictures to go on, no letter like J/Q/K to use as a hint. The pictures seemed to be of a man without horse and a man with a horse. My tutor referred to the latter as a caballo (horse).
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heather
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September 23rd, 2011 at 9:21:13 AM permalink
Here are the 10s (Sotas) and 11s (Caballos) from one of my baraja decks, modelling with my Spanish Put-n-Take top.



http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Baraja_(playing_cards)
Doc
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September 23rd, 2011 at 11:21:36 AM permalink
Looks as if heather's cards display the cup, sword, club, and coin/gold that Wizard mentioned.
odiousgambit
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September 23rd, 2011 at 11:22:37 AM permalink
The English seem to be found of nick-naming this and that; I get the feeling the lower classes popularize a nickname and it gets lost as to how it started. Apparently "Bob" for a shilling has no rhyme or reason that is still known? 'Jack' seems similar.
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Wizard
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September 23rd, 2011 at 11:44:38 AM permalink
Quote: heather

Here are the 10s (Sotas) and 11s (Caballos) from one of my baraja decks,



Thanks, Heather. Those are indeed the card my tutor had. Somehow I incorrectly thought there was a queen/lady in there too. Just goes to show how fallible memory is.

I'm going to make this into an "ask the wizard" question. As usual, it is a question I am asking myself. Here is a rough draft:

Question

Simple question. What is a Jack anyway, as in the playing card? — Anon E. Mouse

Answer

It isn't very often that I say this, but I'm not entirely sure. They used to be known as Knaves, but at some point they became known as Jack. Perhaps about the time they started to put numbers and letters on cards (they didn't used to) and it would have been confusing because both King and Knave start with a K. So that brings up the question of what is a Knave? dictionary.com gives us these definitions, aside from the playing card usage:

an unprincipled, untrustworthy, or dishonest person.
male servant (archaic).
man of humble position (archaic).

Given the company the Knave keeps with kings and queens, you would think the Knave is a male servant. However, the fact that the Knave turned into a Jack argues for a "man of humble position." dictionary.com says one of the various meanings of the word jack:

fellow; buddy; man (usually used in addressing a stranger): Hey, Jack, which way to Jersey?

The expressions "Jack of all trades" and "That's the fact, Jack" spring to my mind. To help us further, let's look at a deck of French cards I happen to have from the Casino Du Montreal. In that deck they use an R for Roi (king), D for Dame (lady), and V for Valet. It should be noted that the French word for queen is reine, so I suspect they went with a lady instead, to avoid two ranks that begin with an R. So, what is a Valet? www.french-linguistics.co.uk says:

manservant; je ne suis pas ton ~ I'm not your slave

That would seem to go along with the English "male servant." Still, I'm not entirely comfortable with that, because if that is the meaning, how did they go from Knave to Jack? I would suggest that the better translation to avoid words that start with K would have been to follow the French and go with Valet, which has a similar meaning in English. Here are the dictionary.com usages for Valet:

a male servant who attends to the personal needs of his employer, as by taking care of clothing or the like; manservant.
a man who is employed for cleaning and pressing, laundering, and similar services for patrons of a hotel, passengers on a ship, etc.
an attendant who parks cars for patrons at a hotel, restaurant, etc.

In closing, let me to the first to suggest that we replace the J on English playing cards with a V, and call them valets. Vive la France!

"For with much wisdom comes much sorrow." -- Ecclesiastes 1:18 (NIV)
heather
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September 23rd, 2011 at 12:20:46 PM permalink
Good topic for a question. You're welcome to use my photo if you'd like. It might also be interesting to use in discussing how Latinos still play Put-n-Take, a former casino game that you never see anymore in the English-speaking world.
Wizard
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September 23rd, 2011 at 12:26:49 PM permalink
Quote: heather

Good topic for a question. You're welcome to use my photo if you'd like. It might also be interesting to use in discussing how Latinos still play Put-n-Take, a former casino game that you never see anymore in the English-speaking world.



Thanks. By any chance do you have a Spanish 52-card deck?
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heather
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September 23rd, 2011 at 12:28:55 PM permalink
No; both of mine are 40-card decks. I'd be happy to take more pictures if you should need them for anything.
FleaStiff
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September 23rd, 2011 at 1:26:37 PM permalink
I didn't know there were TWO one-eyed jacks in a deck.
Ayecarumba
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September 23rd, 2011 at 3:18:30 PM permalink
According to, "A History of Playing Cards" (Catherine Perry Hargrave, New York, Dover Publications, Inc., 1966):

Quote: "A History of Playing Cards", page 170


A 'knave' in those days was used in the same way as the French 'valet,' and merely meant a son. Later, it came to mean a rogue, and from that meaning our present term, 'jack,' is supposed to have come. Originally it was 'Jack a napes,' which in turn was from 'Jack a naipes,' 'naipes' being the Spanish word for cards.



"...those days" refers to 16th century England. There is no attribution regarding the change from "Knave", to "Jack", so I suppose it is the author's assumption.

It is interesting to note that modern day playing cards have their roots in the use of arrows for fortune telling. The arrows evolved into sticks, sticks to tiles, then to hide, cloth, and paper. Woodblock printing revolutionized the industry, and made it affordable for cards to be in the hands of common folks. Originally, the "court" card ranks were indicated by numbers (10, 11, 12). Many international playing cards still use numbers instead of letters today.
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EvenBob
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September 23rd, 2011 at 6:34:05 PM permalink
"It's not called gambling if the math is on your side."
EvenBob
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September 23rd, 2011 at 6:34:06 PM permalink
"It's not called gambling if the math is on your side."
Nareed
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September 23rd, 2011 at 6:49:59 PM permalink
Quote: Wizard

In closing, let me to the first to suggest that we replace the J on English playing cards with a V, and call them valets. Vive la France!



That would be a good subject for a poll.

I'd be against it. Imagine dealing a friendly poker game and saying "One-eyed Valets are wild." It doesn't have a ring to it.

BTW Spanish cards, meaning the cards originating in Spain, are very different from the regular French cards used in casinos all over the world.
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Doc
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September 24th, 2011 at 6:28:56 AM permalink
Quote: Nareed

... Imagine dealing a friendly poker game and saying "One-eyed Valets are wild." It doesn't have a ring to it.


From the images in the Wizard's post from yesterday morning (one page back), there are two one-eyed jacks but only one one-eyed Valet. Not only does the altered expression not have a ring to it, but it also changes the game completely!
FleaStiff
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September 24th, 2011 at 8:30:32 AM permalink
i'd be against the name change too. Don't know how we ever got away from Knave but once it went from Knave to Jack let us simply allow it to stay there and not wander off to Valet for no reason at all. Too many people are going to want their pants pressed or their cars brought round front if you start saying Valet.
NandB
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September 27th, 2011 at 6:07:04 PM permalink
When I saw the French deck with the "V" for valet, "valet" did not immediately pop into mind... rather the word "viceroy" (also of French history ca. 1520).

Dictionary dot com: "a person appointed to rule a country or province as the deputy of the sovereign: the viceroy of India."

I learn sumthin nu every day.

N&B
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MarkAbe
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September 28th, 2011 at 10:03:38 PM permalink
Wizard: In closing, let me to the first to suggest that we replace the J on English playing cards with a V, and call them valets. Vive la France!

I'm going to vote no on that. Not that I'd object to going nine, ten, valet, queen, king, ace.
But I just cannot see calling my favorite game "blackvalet"
FleaStiff
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September 29th, 2011 at 12:27:01 AM permalink
Its been interesting to learn that other countries use such markedly different playing cards. I know there were various rules as to the number of eyes a Jack could have showing and which Jacks could be shown displaying weapons.

There used to be an expression "every man-jack of them" to mean everyone. A man-jack was a reference to the role a jack plays in most of our lives: an instrument utilized to lift a disabled vehicle. In the days of wagon wheels the only device around was often a human being. So a man of strength who played a vital role.
pacomartin
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September 29th, 2011 at 2:02:17 PM permalink
Quote: MarkAbe

But I just cannot see calling my favorite game "blackvalet"



Yet you still call it "blackjack" even though it's been almost a century since a black jack and an ace paid ten to one.

I read that in medieval ages nearly 1/3 of English men were named "Jack". I suppose as an exercise if you went through the Wizard's social security website at the earliest year represented,and added up all the variations of Jack, John, Johnathon (John's son), etc. you would get a fairly sizeable percentage of male names.
dwheatley
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September 30th, 2011 at 7:48:42 AM permalink
Uncle John's 5th bathroom reader says that Jack was a common slang name for Knaves. No source given.
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NandB
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October 4th, 2011 at 11:28:54 PM permalink
Quote:

"There used to be an expression "every man-jack of them" to mean everyone."



Last I heard of that expression was in Dr. Strangelove.

And in parting... Arrr, sez I, and the the one-eyed Jacks be Pirates.

N&B
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TwoFeathersATL
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April 27th, 2016 at 5:47:35 AM permalink
I flagged.
Looked like an ad.
Saw no mention of permission sought or granted.
Hope that's cool....

Sort-of a 'hit the road Jack', in keeping with the thread
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DJTeddyBear
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April 27th, 2016 at 7:38:19 AM permalink
I also flagged .... and it's gone.
I invented a few casino games. Info: http://www.DaveMillerGaming.com/ ————————————————————————————————————— Superstitions are silly, childish, irrational rituals, born out of fear of the unknown. But how much does it cost to knock on wood? 😁
Ibeatyouraces
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April 27th, 2016 at 7:41:22 AM permalink
I was going to, but after accidentally getting one of RSs' I wasnt taking a chance :-)
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gordonm888
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April 27th, 2016 at 8:00:53 AM permalink
By the way, one language not referenced in the posts so far is Hebrew. In Hebrew, the knave/jack is called “nasich” which means prince. Far more aristocratic than the "steeplejack, lumberjack" common-man that seems to be the basis for our familiar Jack.

Whomever originally changed the name to Jack has given me the lifelong fits because I've struggled in my spreadsheets to find a satisfactory letter or character to stand for Joker. I can't use J because that stands for Jack, I can't use O because that looks like a zero, and I can't use K because that means King. Some people use the letter W, for Wild, but an upper case W is so wide that it creates problems with alignment, column width, etc.
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DJTeddyBear
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April 27th, 2016 at 9:57:03 AM permalink
Quote: gordonm888

... I've struggled in my spreadsheets to find a satisfactory letter or character to stand for Joker. I can't use J because that stands for Jack, I can't use ... etc.

I use, and have seen others use, an asterisk. And, if we're talking about Blackjack, T is for tens as well as picture cards.
I invented a few casino games. Info: http://www.DaveMillerGaming.com/ ————————————————————————————————————— Superstitions are silly, childish, irrational rituals, born out of fear of the unknown. But how much does it cost to knock on wood? 😁
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