Think in English with Adah

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A Phrase A Week: All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.

Not a phrase this week but, just for a change, a proverb…


This proverb means that everyone needs to take some time off from work, relax and have some fun. Don’t overdo it.



English phrases frequently include names. Jack appears in more phrases than does any other name. That might be expected as Jack is a colloquial form of John and, for the period in which the majority of these phrases were coined, John was the most common boy’s name amongst English speakers. Jack was the generic name for the common man; a lad, a fellow, a chap, but also with the hint of rogue (a dishonest man). ‘John’ appears in our phrases and sayings hardly at all and this is probably because ‘Jack’ was considered the more interesting character.

The name Jack also appears in this kind of famous pumpkin lanterns that people carved for Halloween.

The origin of Jack-o-lantern


The Jack-o-lantern custom probably comes from Irish folklore. As the tale is told, a man named Jack, who was notorious as a drunkard (someone who often drinks too much) and trickster (someone who uses dishonest methods to get what they want), tricked Satan (the most powerful evil spirit) into climbing a tree. Jack then carved an image of a cross in the tree’s trunk, trapping the devil up the tree. Jack made a deal with the devil that, if he would never tempt him again, he would promise to let him down the tree.

According to the folk tale, after Jack died, he was denied entrance to Heaven because of his evil ways, but he was also denied access to Hell because he had tricked the devil. Instead, the devil gave him a single ember (a piece of coal that is still hot and red after a fire has stopped burning) to light his way through the frigid darkness. The ember was placed inside a hollowed-out turnip (see the picture below) to keep it glowing longer. 

The Irish used turnips as their “Jack’s lanterns” originally. But when the immigrants came to America, they found that pumpkins were far more plentiful than turnips. So the Jack-O-Lantern in America was a hollowed-out pumpkin, lit with an ember.

November 4th, 2011 Posted by adah at 06:35pm | Fun English Phrases | no comments

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