1450, from “Jack of Naples”, with “of Naples” rendered “a Napes” in vernacular. Originally rendered as Jac Napes, Jac Nape, and Jack Napis in 1450s. Presumably from *Jak a Napes, and original *Jak of Naples, presumably circa 1400. Monkeys were one of many exotic goods from Naples exhibited in Britain, hence acquired the nickname Jack a Napes.
In sense “upstart person”, applied to 15th century William de la Pole, 1st Duke of Suffolk, one of the first nouveau riche nobles (risen from merchant class). The family used a collar and chain on their coat of arms, which was an unfortunate choice, as this was more associated with monkey leashes, leading to the derisive nickname Jack Napis for de la Pole, yielding the insult.
Later mis-analyzed as Jack-an-apes (16th and 17th century), leading to folk etymology (taking “ape” from “monkey”). The same process and mis-analysis occurred for fustian of Naples, which became fustian a napes, fustian anapes, etc.
Also attributed to the transition of the playing card 'Knave' to 'Jack' where both cards were associated with the idea of roguery. The 'Jack' became the 'Jack a napes', derived from 'Jack a naipes', 'naipes' being the Spanish for playing card.
jackanapes (plural jackanapeses)
- (obsolete) A monkey.
- (dated, derogatory) An impudent or mischievous person.
- 1611 April (first recorded performance), William Shakespeare, “The Tragedie of Cymbeline”, in Mr. William Shakespeares Comedies, Histories, & Tragedies: Published According to the True Originall Copies (First Folio), London: Printed by Isaac Iaggard, and Ed[ward] Blount, published 1623, OCLC 606515358, [Act II, scene i], pages 375–376:
- Was there euer man had ſuch lucke? when I kiſt the Iacke vpon an vp-caſt, to be hit away? I had a hundred pound on't: and then a whoreſon Iacke-an-apes muſt take me vp for ſwearing, as if I borrowed mine oathes of him, and might not ſpend them at my pleaſure.
- For quotations of use of this term, see Citations:jackanapes.
- plural of
- “Attraction in English”, Charles P. G. Scott, Transactions of the American Philological Association, volume 25, 1893, p. 113
- Charles P. G. Scott, Transactions of the American Philological Association, volume 23, pp. 190–193 – 38 quotations
- “It’s the southern end of a northbound jackalope.” The Word Detective, March 24, 2004