Appalachian Dialect

Tore Up Jack

girl holding dog

A couple weeks back Jeanne left this comment:

“Have I missed a discussion about “jack”. What kind of things are torn up when the wind tears up jack?  Also, we all made a lot of racket when growing up in Wisconsin. Still a lot of racket when the Packers play.”

In this post I said “I’ve always been fascinated with the wind. Oh I’m not talking about the kind that blows down trees and tears up jack.”

That’s the sentence that made Jeanne ask her question.

Tear up Jack is a saying I’ve heard all my life. What does it mean? If something tears up Jack it leaves destruction in its wake.

The word Jack is used in other Appalachian phrases too.

  • You don’t know Jack means you don’t know nothing
  • You can Jack someone up which means you scold or find fault with them
  • Before you could say Jack Robinson means something occurred very quickly
  • You can Jack someones jaw which means connect your fist with their face
  • And then there’s the popular expletive Jack sh*t

I’m sure I didn’t cover all the Jack sayings. If you think of one please leave a comment.


Subscribe for FREE and get a daily dose of Appalachia in your inbox

You Might Also Like


  • Reply
    Joel Gibson
    May 29, 2021 at 12:26 pm

    In Piedmont NC a “Jack Babtist,” or “Jack Mormon” meant someone who ignored certain teachings of their church. Now, I suppose none of us always follow exactly, but a “Jack Mormon” for example might drink coffee not once in a while, but every morning without any remorse. In most circles it is considered rude to speak of someone that way, but I have heard some people own it, “Oh pour me a beer, I’m just a Jack Babtist.”

  • Reply
    Ron Seals
    May 29, 2021 at 11:06 am

    My mom always said us kids were tearing down jack.

  • Reply
    Brent Clayton
    May 21, 2020 at 10:51 am

    There is also jack leg which means not very good. He is a jack leg carpenter!
    Cracker jack! Which means very good. He is a crackerjack carpenter

  • Reply
    Kathy Coleman
    May 29, 2019 at 8:58 am

    Add. . .. you don’t know Jack …… to your list ….I have used that all my life, still do (I grew up in middle of four brothers, later had 3 sons, now have an old husband of 47 yrs….lots of men who DON’T KNOW JACK! ) KATHY COLEMAN

  • Reply
    May 29, 2019 at 12:18 am

    Jack Robinson, definitely! All the rest, never. But I’ve always used jack in two other ways: to jack up something with a tool called a jack —- and to steal, as in, “I had to walk because someone jacked my bike.”

  • Reply
    May 28, 2019 at 1:56 pm

    The picture is so sweet, especially Ruby’s smile..

  • Reply
    Bill Burnett
    May 28, 2019 at 1:20 pm

    During my seven decades I have encountered many folks who don’t know “Jack Squat” I think this came about from folks not wanting to be to crude by saying “Jack Sh*t.

    • Reply
      Ed Ammons
      May 28, 2019 at 8:26 pm

      Jack Sh*t = Doodly poot

  • Reply
    Ed Ammons
    May 28, 2019 at 12:35 pm

    I’ve heard of money or the lack thereof being called Jack. “He dresses like he thinks he’s a king but he ain’t got Jack!

    How about a Jackleg? Somebody who claims to be a professional but produces inferior work.

    Jack rafters are the short rafters in the valley on your roof. Jack studs hold up the header over your windows and doors.

    Jacks in a game for kids. Or simple minded adults like yours truly.

    Best of all is Cracker Jacks!!

  • Reply
    May 28, 2019 at 12:26 pm

    Some folks are just complete Jack —es, I know I work for the public.

    • Reply
      Guy Biesanz
      May 30, 2019 at 1:58 am

      Don’t forget Jack “o” Lantern

  • Reply
    Ken Roper
    May 28, 2019 at 11:32 am

    I’m scared of high winds, especially when they “tear up Jack”. I’ve heard that expression all my life. Me and Harold got caught in a storm on the way back from the store. We were on the Railroad track about a 1/3 of the way back to the house. We saw it coming toward us and there was Hail in it too. The only thing we could think of is getting home, so we ran, toward the house. We knew the hills and our Beautiful Mountains would protect us and we were right. When we got in the hollar, it wasn’t even raining anymore. It had come up a storm in the Open Spaces and was really picking up Speed. The Mountains had made the storm raise up and skip over, but on the railroad, it ‘tore up Jack’ and downed some trees. …Ken

  • Reply
    May 28, 2019 at 10:26 am

    Down here in north Louisiana, when we ‘re funning with someone, stretching the truth, we say ‘we’re just jacking with you’

  • Reply
    b. Ruth
    May 28, 2019 at 9:58 am

    This “Jack” feller gets around…There’s Jack Sprat…A long lean feller is sometimes said to look like Jack Sprat…’cause he could eat no lean!” This was a nickname for my husband when he was a tall lean boy! Then in the winter “Jack Frost” shows his etchings on the window panes! Then there is “Jack-be-Nimble” who can jump or balance on anything…Dad said he had “Jack-be-Nimble” working for him as he would walk roof beams without a hitch.. Then what about the famous “Jack of all trades”, the guy who could fix or do anything, taught hisownself they say!…There’s fish called “Jacks”, trees as well “Jack Pines”…tall they are…LOL Guess one could say Jack kinda gets around and if in the wrong place when the wind rolls thru the mountains gets tore up….like Jack…
    Thanks Tipper love this one…

  • Reply
    May 28, 2019 at 8:19 am

    I have been accused of always “Jackin’ my jaw” which in my world meant talking endlessly. This is in contrast to describing some as a “man of few words.” Interesting that I have never heard that description of a woman. Hifalutin or ladylike used to be common words for quiet or reserved ladies. Thanks for another great post.

  • Reply
    Jim Casada
    May 28, 2019 at 7:04 am

    Tipper–I’ve most frequently heard jack used in the last way you mention, the crudity, such as “That trifling fellow ain’t worth jack-s…!”
    Another use I’ve heard involving quickness or rapidity, rather than Jack Robinson, uses rabbit: “I’ll have that done before you can say jack rabbit.”
    Back in the days when corporal punishment was not only permissible but utilized with some regularity, I had a 9th grade English teacher named Thad DeHart who would say, if some boy got out of line, “I’m going to jack you up out of that desk and give you six of my best.”
    “Six of his best” meant a half dozen energetically applied licks with a razor strap, and he once flat-out tore up my behind after some transgression. I don’t remember what I did although I have no doubt whatsoever I deserved the whipping. What I do recall is that I made a bad mistake while he was retrieving the razor strap. I quickly stuffed a Duxbak cap under my britches. Apparently the resultant bulge was readily discernible, because he strapped me with sufficient vigor to leave big bruises. Today that would mean a lawsuit, firing, and general outrage. Then I didn’t dare mention it to my parents because it would have meant a second thrashing.
    Jim Casada

  • Reply
    Miss Cindy
    May 28, 2019 at 6:57 am

    Tip, I’ve heard all of these and used most of them. It’s the word you use to emphasize what ever you are saying.
    I saw Ruby’s work, she sure did tear up jack. She’s a little whirlwind all by herself!
    That’s a really sweet photo of Ruby Sue and Chitter!

  • Reply
    May 28, 2019 at 6:36 am

    We checked out a book from the library called “The Jack Tales”, America’s south East trickster-hero transplanted from English folk. They were pretty funny.

  • Leave a Reply