Cracker Jack

In doubt

New Member
Spanish - Cuba
English is not my first language and I still at times run into an expression I am not familiar with... Today I heard Cracker Jack used as someone who is really good at doing something. I thought it was just the opposite, since the only Cracker Jack that I know of is the snack that brings a little toy inside. Could anyone help me with this?
 
  • sdgraham

    Senior Member
    USA English
    From dictionary.com (note lower case)

    crack·er·jack   [krak-er-jak] Informal .
    –noun 1. a person or thing that shows marked ability or excellence.


    –adjective 2. of marked ability; exceptionally fine.
     

    Parla

    Member Emeritus
    English - US
    English is not my first language and I still at times run into an expression I am not familiar with... Today I heard Cracker Jack used as someone who is really good at doing something. I thought it was just the opposite, since the only Cracker Jack that I know of is the snack that brings a little toy inside. Could anyone help me with this?
    Yes, "Cracker Jack" (two words) is a trademark for a brand of popcorn.

    But crackerjack (one word) is also a word. It's an Americanism, going back to the late 19th century (it was at first spelled "crackajack"), meaning someone, or something, superior to others. It can also be used as an adjective (he's a crackerjack computer programmer), and is probably used that way more often than as a noun.

    Some dictionaries class the word as slang. I'd call it informal.
     

    Thomas Tompion

    Senior Member
    English - England
    I remember Vance Packard in The Hidden Persuaders points out that children like foods which make noises. The example he gave was Rice Crispies which make a noise when you pour milk onto them. Snap, Crackle, Pop, was the advertizing slogan. Vance Packard goes into the psychology of why, but I think we can omit that, as too sensational.

    I think Parla has a good point.
     

    natkretep

    Moderato con anima (English Only)
    English (Singapore/UK), basic Chinese
    But crackerjack (one word) is also a word. It's an Americanism, going back to the late 19th century (it was at first spelled "crackajack"), meaning someone, or something, superior to others.
    Presumably no relation to BE cracker (eg 'That was a cracker of a show!'), a general term of approval? I hear it in Australian English too. Here's the WR Dictionary:

    4 Brit. informal a fine example of something.
     

    Thomas Tompion

    Senior Member
    English - England
    Presumably no relation to BE cracker (eg 'That was a cracker of a show!'), a general term of approval? I hear it in Australian English too. Here's the WR Dictionary:
    I'd assumed the one derived from the other, and that a cracker of a show meant that it fizzed like a firecracker.

    Dictionary.com gives the etymology of cracker: Origin:
    1400–50; late Middle English craker. See crack, -er1 ; ( defs. 4–5 ) perhaps orig. in sense “braggart,” applied to frontiersmen of the southern American colonies in the 1760s, though subsequently given other interpretations ( compare corn-cracker); for crackers crazy, compare cracked, -ers
     

    natkretep

    Moderato con anima (English Only)
    English (Singapore/UK), basic Chinese
    Ah, thanks, TT. I've since gone to the OED, which contains this entry (labelled Draft Additions August 2001), and crackerjack is mentioned as a point of reference.
    slang. Something exceptional of its kind; a fine or impressive example, a ‘corker’. Also: a very attractive, appealing, lively, or admirable person, esp. a woman. Cf. cracking adj. 3, crackerjack n. and adj.

    [deletion]1984 ‘J. Gash’ Gondola Scam (1985) viii. 55, I hear your lady is a cracker, Lovejoy.
    1990 Sun 1 Mar. 42 The pitch was a cracker‥hard and shining.
    1998 Total Football Nov. 79/1 You beauty, you've scored a cracker against our rivals and condemned them to relegation.
     
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