Photo of author


Jack-in-the-box is a compound word which is a word formed by joining together two unrelated words to create a word with a new meaning. We will look at the current definition of the word jack-in-the-box, some of the early meanings of the term and where it may have come from and some examples of its use in sentences.

A jack-in-the-box is a children’s toy. This toy consists of a box loaded with a puppet on a spring that pops up when the lid is opened. Most jack-in-the-boxes are propelled by turning a crank. The puppet in a jack-in-the-box is usually a clown puppet, but not always. The first jack-in-the-box toys appeared around the beginning of the eighteenth century. The term jack-in-the-box goes back to the 1560s, originally as a term describing a swindler who substituted an empty box for a full one. Over time, jack-in-the-box came to variously mean a peddler in a temporary stall, a baby in the womb, a particular game, or a certain type of firework. The name Jack has sometimes been used as a generic term for a man and sometimes used as a humorous name for Satan. The plural form of jack-in-the-box may be either jack-in-the-boxes or jacks-in-the-box. Note that the name Jack is no longer capitalized in the word jack-in-the-box.


One day the jack-in-the-box frightens the ballerina so much that she hides away in her box and rarely comes out again. (The Cyprus Mail)

Before Pixar struck movie gold with “Toy Story” and before the debut of “The Nutcracker,” there was the tale of the Steadfast Tin Soldier, Hans Christian Andersen’s fable about a toy soldier who is pushed out the window by a jealous jack-in-the-box, lands in a rain gutter, and is carried out to sea and into the jaws of a hungry fish. (The Press & Sun Bulletin)