And what makes him so speedy?
Last night while reading Petrified Man, I ran across this phrase, "and it goes out to his joints and before you can say 'Jack Robinson,' it's stone--pure stone." (27) I remember reading it in Why I Live at the P.O. earlier and went back to find the passage. Sister comments on her Uncle Rondo running for the hammock, "and before you could say 'Jack Robinson' flew out in the yard." (59)
This isn't the first time I've seen a variation on the "before you can say Jack Robinson" line. In one of my favorite juvenile books, Bud, not Buddy by Christopher Paul Curtis, main character Bud says the line. At the time, I thought he meant to say Jackie Robinson and shortened the name as slang. By Welty's usage, I realize the phrase is older than originally thought.
Here is the perfect opportunity to teach idioms to a class. Like my thought of Jackie Robinson, idioms have a time setting and are hard to understand if taken out of context. I correctly assumed (duh) that the saying meant fast, but completely missed the "what or who" makes it fast. Here is a nice explanation provided by Wikipedia. ~ Maggie