Dennis R. Preston preston at PILOT.MSU.EDU
Sun Sep 30 13:19:40 UTC 2001

When I was a kid and worked in my parents' paint and wallpaper store,
a 'jackleg painter' was a combination of several of the following

1) non-union
2) self-taught
3) unreliable (often suffering from painters' colic, although respected
        professionals also suggered from this malady)
4) not full-time
5) not skilled (i.e., producing shoddy work, not just failing to
appear, failing
        to pay workers or bills, as is suggested in 3))
6) worked for less (obviously connected to 1))

In short, it was a "general negative," and any one of these features
might have been highlighted in a single instantiation. It would be
difficult to say which were the required and which were the optional
features for the semantics of it.


PS: Before you ask, "painters' colic" is the need for strong drink
after work to cut the paint fumes from your throat. A better excuse
than many; at least it fronted a physical rather than psychological

>Thank all of you for the input on jackleg/jakeleg/jake brakes:
>the usual mixture of erudition, wisecracks, informed specu-
>lation, and inimitable "other" that I so love about this list and
>its contributors.
>Have at least some good general possibilities in mind now
>for the derivation of "jackleg" and "jakeleg"...and the latter's
>merely fortuitous (though Jacobs Manufacturing Company
>might consider it otherwise) connection to "jake brake."
>Wondering now what are the parameters for "jackleg" ?  As
>Jonathan Green mentioned, it seems usually applied to "various
>incompetent, unskilled or unprincipled professionals"...preachers,
>lawyers, and I believe I've heard doctors so termed.  Can't recall
>an instance of other professions...pharmacists, librarians, etc...
>it might be applied to, however.
>On the other hand, "jackleg (car-)mechanic" is well recognized;
>and again, believe I've heard it of plumbers.  So a jackleg (my
>father's use was that non-specific) can also be blue-collar, I pre-
>sume ?
>Finally, Is there included a sense of "self-proclaimed" or "self-taught;"
>and in the latter case, might a jackleg mechanic (for example) be
>fully as competent, skilled and principled as Mr. Goodwrench ?
>                                                                       Steve
>                                                                       Hicks

Dennis R. Preston
Department of Linguistics and Languages
Michigan State University
East Lansing MI 48824-1027 USA
preston at pilot.msu.edu
Office: (517)353-0740
Fax: (517)432-2736
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