Word of the Day: Jackanape

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I came upon this catchy word from Killian Branding’s website. Without even knowing its definition, it’s one of those words that just sounds great. Intuitively, I thought a jackanape was a jack-of-all-trades kind of character, but I was mistaken. So, what is a jackanape? When I started this article I had no idea how damn interesting things would get, for we take a dip into medieval royalty, battles, seafaring and the rise and fall of fates – vicissitudes, in a word.

At one point in jackanape’s long history, it was this:

A monkey on a leash.

However, in the 15th century there was one William de la Pole; aka, the Duke of Suffolk. He was a popular soldier and commander during the Hundred Years’ War (England vs. France). During William’s dukedom (which is another good word) – things went sour for him – he lost all of England’s possessions held in northern France. It was a dukedom fail of national importance and complete and utter personal integrity. The beginning of the end for our luck-challenged duke.

Firstly, he lost his much earned fame. He suffered a massive decline in popularity and got re-branded as Jack Napis, or Jack the fucking Monkey, in today’s parlance. Because of this:

[image source]

That is the heraldic arms of Duke William. See the two monkeys tied up? The tethering of exotic monkeys, or jackanapes (mischievous little buggers from Naples) was a cool thing to do back then. Not so cool when the smelly common folk decide to nickname you that when your luck is already on the dwindle. The fucked Duke of Suffolk now has the dubious honour of forever being the man whom the word jackanape is tied to, much like the monkey on the chain.

But that’s not where his misfortune ended. He was subsequently arrested, impeached, imprisoned in the infamous London Tower, banished for five years, captured on a boat on his way to Calais, subjected to a mock trial (which would be exceedingly frustrating if you stop to think about it) – then beheaded on the boat. Oh, the vicissitudes!

A photographer of the time captured this callous moment:


In any case, the word jackanapes ended up getting a life of its own over the course of the next few centuries until it is what it is today: an impudent person; a fool; an impertinent, conceited fellow, or (my personal favourite), an “absurd fop”.


In honour of Chris Cornell’s recent passing, did you know that Soundgarden had a song called Fopp from their EP entitled Screaming Life / Fopp? Enjoy:

If you like this story, do share it and consider buying this spunky Jackanapes shirt!

Buy it here. Then when someone asks you about your peculiar choice in clothing, you can then regale them with the fateful tale of the Duke of Suffolk!

(In researching this neat little story, I discovered that Jack Napis was nowhere to be found and that Jack Napier is a generously endowed porn star who needs your support.)

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