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10 comments on this post.
  1. Bill Souder:

    What a long jackleg answer to a simple question. Here’s all that needed said.
    An unskilled or unscrupulous person, often used to describe lawyers, preachers and the word detective.

  2. Rex Fouch:

    I searched for this etymology because my daughter, who is in college near Dayton OH used the term “jack knife” and her friends asked her where she came up with that bizzare term. They insisted it was “pocket knife,” and never heard it called anything else. She then asked me if I had playing a joke on her for 19 years (we use both terms in Michigan, but I guess I generally use the shorter one. I’m relieved to learn I wasn’t using a non-legit term all those years.
    Mr Souder–read Mr Johnson’s question again…more carefully this time.

  3. Rex Fouch:

    “bizarre,” that is

  4. Mr.TracyCrawford:

    A complete answer is as long as it takes to be complete. Thank you Sir for your diligence. You have increased my understanding and that is more than I could have asked.

  5. Susan Rusciano:

    I just purchased BJ Ward’s collected poems, titled “Jackleg Opera,” and not being familiar with the term, came across your entry. Thank you for your thorough explanation of the word and its origins. (I highly recommend the poetry volume.)

  6. Ed Biemer:

    I believe that I may have the origin of the term “jackleg”. I’m not sure where I read this but I believe the term “jackleg” came about from the side effects of drinking an inferior alcoholic liquor made from the Jack Fruit. It seems the fermented juice from the Jack Fruit has a natural occurring chemical (neural toxin) in it that after fermentation causes intermittent paralyses in the legs and knees of the drinker. This resulted in strange staggering gate cause by the weakening of the legs and buckling the knees of those who drank it on a regular basis. Thus, a jackleg was a drunk or low life.

  7. jmsalmon:

    I heard a story about how the term jack leg drunk came about. Supposedly in Cloverport, Ky or along the Ohio River many years ago. Liquor was traded from Jamaica was traded. It was poisonous and the side effect was dragging one leg. Since the prominent members of these communities did not partake in drinking, they were busted when dragging their legs around town. Don’t know how true this is, but it makes sense.

  8. Nick C.:

    It’s Jake leg not jack leg. Coming from one of those tonics that were sold during prohibition.

    Wonderful article, thanks for digging.

  9. G. Morris:

    Terrific explanation. Makes perfect sense. Although I also share the OED’s skepticism over Jacques de Leige. My ancestors, most all of whom were from the British Isles, have used this term for at least a Century here in the States: a have a letter from an uncle written in 1859 that uses the word “jackleg (sic)” in this manner: “Cousin Press was taking a jacklegg to the beam when it fell and hit him on the head, liked to knock him to Kingdom’s door…” Since they were taking down a rickety old shed, I imagine Press was using a flat edge to pry a post and beam apart. I didn’t know for sure what my uncle might have meant, but this article gives me an insight. My family has always carried pocket knives, and although I’ve never heard one refer to his knife as a “jack leg” (jack knife, yes), the term “jack leg” is almost exclusively used to refer to someone unskilled in the building trades. So thanks for the detailed answer!

  10. Brendan:

    Ed’s explanation makes the most sense. My grandfather used the term and was curious as to it’s origin.

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