I was analysis my dictionary and I came throughout this phrase: "Before you have the right to say Jack Robinson", definition nearly instantaneously to be supplied as follows:

Before you have the right to say Jack Robinboy, I took the money and ran away.

You are watching: Faster than you can say jack robinson

I tried searching it in Wikipedia yet it sindicate states that it"s a mythical perkid. It doesn"t aid much. It gives some hypothesis however no solid proof.

So, who is Jack Robinson?



Attested incidents of the phrase “say Jack Robinson”

A Google Books search reveals a cluster of publimelted writings from the early 1760s that encompass the phrase “say Jack Robinson.”

From “Anvarious other Letter of the Seafarer from the Havannah,” in The Edinburgh Magazine (November 1762):

I was sorry for the commodore of the castle, cause he was a brave fellow ; a round came aboard of him, under the larboard-side of his breastern, and also clapped a stopper upon his commission, before one could say Jack Robinson.

From "Truepenny," letter around “a filthy fashion,” in The London Magazine (January 1763):

You cannot however have actually taken notice, sir, you that are so universally conversant with the ladies, that of late, tbelow appears to be a second development of hair on the heads (I say, Sir, on the heads) of such of our females as are generally viewed in places of public entertainment : Tright here seems, because the current fashion, to be an additional quantity both in front and rear. Now possibly you imagine this boost to be owing to some freshly found pomatum, bear’s grease or something of that sort.—No such thing. It is completely owing to the French manner of Frizzlation. Perhaps you have no idea just how this is performed. I’ll tell you, Sir.—Monsieur, having, with an inimitable air of gentility, deposited his tools on the table, and also familiarly enquired after her ladyship’s health, starts his operation for this reason : He dextrously separates from the rest, 6 hairs near the Crvery own of the head, twists them between his thumb and finger, rolls them up from the points to the root, and, prior to you can say Jack Robinson, locks them fast in a square inch of paper.

From “Lecture on Heads,” in The Gentleman’s Magazine (September 1765):

Well, and then our army all have to wear a new uniform ; all our equine infantry, should wear air jackets ; and also all our foot cavalry, should wear cork waist-coats; and also then ye know, why they’d be anywhere the sea before you could say Jack Robinson!

From “Tristram Shandy,” Miss C——y’s Cbinet of Curiosities; or The Green-Room Broken Open (1765):

I love vastly an Author that has the Braincredibly of combating well-known Prejudice. Tright here is great Merit in being singular ; and also, I trust, such is the Force of our impartial Critic’s Observations and also Arguments, that as quickly as the Work is publiburned, the World will certainly change their Opinions in an Instant,—in the Twinkling of an Eye—as shortly as one deserve to say Jack Robinson—and also I hope additionally, that in Consequence of the humane ZANGA being looked on as the ideal Actor, the cruel, Browbeating, swearing Roscius will be dethroned.

Theories of the phrase’s origin

The earliest arsenal of sayings to incorporate “say Jack Robinson” is Francis Gclimbed, A Classical Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue (1785):

JACK ROBINSON, before one can say Jack Robinboy, a saying to expush a very brief time, originating from a really volatile gentleguy of that appellation, that would contact on his neighbors, and be gone before his name might be announced.

But a lot of lexicographers have been unenthusiastic about this derivation, and also some have actually floated options to Grose’s theory.

From James Halliwell, A Thesaurus of Antiquated and also Provincial Words Obsolete Phrases, Proverbs, and also Ancient Customs, from the Fourteenth Century, second edition (1852)

Before one might say Jack Robinkid, a saying to expush a really short time, sassist to have originated from a very volatile gentlemale of that appellation that would contact on his neighbors, and be gone prior to his name can be announced. The complying with lines “from an old play” are elsewhere offered as the original phrase,—

“A warke it ys as easie to be done

As tys to saye, Jacke ! robys on.

The source mentioned as having actually “elsewhere given” the couplet “as the original phrase” appears to be William Carr, The Dialect of Craven, in the West Riding of the County of York, volume 1 (1828):

JACK ROBINSON, What a stvariety pervariation of words will time frequently occasion! “As quickly as you can say Jack Robinson,” is a phrase widespread in eexceptionally part of the kingdom, but who can intend that it is a corruption of the adhering to quotation?—

“A warke it ys as easie to be doone,

As "tys to saye, Jack ! robys on."

Old Play.

Pishy Thompson, The History and also Antiquities of Boston (1856) changes the couplet"s second line a little and adds an approximate date for the old play, without saying wbelow that indevelopment came from:

“Before you deserve to say Jack Robinboy.”

“A warke it ys as easie to be doone

As ‘tis to saye, ‘ ‘Jack’s-robys-on.’”

Old Play, about 1580.

What is this old play? An item in Notes and Queries (1916), after citing Halliwell’s discussion, asks this very question :

Is the referral well-known, and what is shown by “elsewhere”? Does “robys on” suppose “Robyson” or “Robinson” or somepoint else?

A query around the saying appeared at 1 S. vi. 415. Beyond an editorial note giving the quote from Grose, I think that tright here was no reply.

The editor of H.D. Thoreau, Walden: A Fully Annotated Edition (2004) attributes the couplet not to an old play from circa 1580 yet to an eighteenth-century song:

From a popular 18th-century song composed by a tobacconist named Hudson: “A warke it ys as easie to be done / As tys to saye, Jack! robys on."

Unfortunately, this note appears to garble the song theory and the old play theory, which in numerous reference works of the nineteenth century appear contiguously and without a clear shift from one to the various other. Henry Reddall, Fact, Fancy, and also Fable: A New Handbook for Ready Reference on Subjects Commonly Omitted from Cyclopedias (1892), seems to support the song theory:

Jack Robinboy. “Before you can say Jack Robinkid.” This existing phrase is shelp to be acquired from a humorous song by Hudkid, a tobacconist in Shoe Lane London. He was a skilled song-writer and also vocalist, who used to be engaged to sing at supper-rooms and theatrical residences.

But Ebenezer Brewer, The Reader’s Handbook of Famous Names in Fiction, Allusions, References, Proverbs, Plots, Stories, and Poems, revised edition (1910), offers an essential (and also problematic) detail around Hudson:

Jack Robinchild. This famous comic song is by Hudboy, tobacconist, No. 98, Shoe Lane, London, in the early on component of the nineteenth century. The last line is, “And he was of prior to you could say ‘Jack Robinchild.’” The tune to which the words are sung is the Sailors’ Hornpipe.

And ultimately, as detailed in Barrie England’s answer, tbelow is a concept that “say Jack Robinson” have the right to be traced to an allusion in Parliament by Richard Sheridan to one more Parliamentarian. However before, the John (Jack) Robinboy of that anecdote initially became an MP in 1764. The expression for this reason shows up to have actually existed well prior to Sheridan had occasion to usage it as a sly means of accutilizing John Robinkid, by name, of bribery.


To summarize, the candidays put forward as the true source of a expression that started showing up in British magazines by 1762 are (1) a song from the early nineteenth century, (2) a Parliamentary riposte from roughly 1780, (3) a mysterious old play initially mentioned—but neither determined nor dated—in 1828, and also (4) a gentleguy identified by name just who was said—in 1785—to have been famed for paying extremely brief visits to world. Theories (1) and also (2) fail for basic reasons of chronology. Theory (3) would be much more plausible if anyone had actually ever been able to identify the “old play” or even to uncover an earlier referral to it than Carr’s in 1828. And theory (4), though hardly disprovable, offers bit in the means of verifiable proof to assistance its conjecture.

No wonder Robert Hendrickkid, The Thesaurus of Eponyms (1972) writes:

Notable attempts have been made to map this eighteenth-century British expression, all uneffective. … But Jack Robinson was probably supplied in the phrase sindicate bereason it is an extremely common name in England also and is straightforward to pronounce.

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That the first four matches for the word in a Google Books search are from 1762, 1763, and also 1765 (two occurrences) argues that the phrase became famous reasonably suddenly, which in turn raises doubt as to just how lengthy it went unpublished prior to that time.