What’s with the JACK & the O’ in “Jack-o’-lantern?”

So, this all started with me doubting myself over the answer to the question, “What is the plural of Jack-o-lantern?”

I thought it was Jacks-o-lantern, based Army experience with the plurals courts martial and sergeants major.  You pluralize the noun and not the words that describe or modify it.  Here’s a link with those and other odd plurals.

Turns out, I DON’T KNOW JACK!  The term Jacks-o-lantern was wrong in more ways than one.  But my search led to other questions like who is Jack?  Why did he get stab-happy with our pumpkins?

MY FIRST MISTAKE–jack is not capitalized.   A jack was originally a boy (1500’s English), and later a term for a male servant and even a night watchman.   It’s like the jack playing card (originally a foot servant, not royalty) or a jack of all trades.   Centuries later, Irish lore attached a proper name, Jack Stingy, to the these pumpkins defaced with faces.  Here are more details.

MY SECOND MISTAKE– the O needs an apostrophe.  It’s short for ‘of’ like in the sandwich Fillet o’ Fish.  People spell it both ways these days, including me.

MY THIRD MISTAKE–Lantern is the plural.   Grammarist.com  says so, however it didn’t explain exactly why.  I’m  left guessing that the lantern is the noun, and the other words, jack-o’, tell us what kind of lantern–the kind of carried by a jack, or night watchman.  But then, wouldn’t it be lanterns-o’-jack??

Ouch!  That last one got my head hurting.  I think I’ll take out my frustrations by slashing and stabbing a pumpkin in the spirit of Halloween.  TAKE THAT, JACK!

Happy Halloween Season!  ~Brian

Halloween pumpkin carving by Brandon Goldman