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A generic jack-in-the-box
Two boys playing with a jack-in-the-box in an 1863 illustration
Jack-in-the-box after Paul Gavarni.

A jack-in-the-box is a children's toy that outwardly consists of a box with a crank.[1] When the crank is turned, a music box mechanism in the toy plays a melody. After the crank has been turned a sufficient amount of times (such as at the end of the melody), there is a "surprise":[2] the lid pops open and a figure, usually a clown or jester, pops out of the box. Some jack-in-the-boxes open at random times when cranked, making the startle even more effective. Many of those that use "Pop Goes the Weasel" open at the point in the melody when the word "pop" would be sung.


A theory as to the origin of the jack-in-the-box is that it comes from the 14th-century English prelate Sir John Schorne,[3] who is often pictured holding a boot with a devil in it. According to folklore, he once cast the devil into a boot to protect the village of North Marston in Buckinghamshire. In French, a jack-in-the-box is called a "diable en boîte" (literally "devil in a box").


  1. ^ Sobey, Ed; Sobey, Woody (2008), The Way Toys Work: The Science Behind the Magic 8 Ball, Etch a Sketch, Boomerang, and More, Chicago Review Press, p. 71, ISBN 1613743092. 
  2. ^ Hayes, Justin Cord (2012), The Unexpected Evolution of Language: Discover the Surprising Etymology of Everyday Words, Adams Media, p. 106, ISBN 1440542791. 
  3. ^ Vince, John (2008), Discovering Saints in Britain (3rd ed.), Osprey Publishing, p. 29, ISBN 0747804753. 

External links[edit]

Media related to Jack-in-the-box at Wikimedia Commons