“Here’s Johnny”


Springboro's Guy Pasvogel, published author, shares his thoughts

SPRINGBORO, OH -- Isn’t it funny how first names in the English language have been used and overused in phrases and idioms over the years to describe certain meanings and expressions? Take for example, the common name “John.” 

Did you know that John is the most popular first name in the United States? U.S. statistics show that there are 5,298,362 people named John living in our country. That figures to 1,661 Johns for every 100,000 Americans.

Many of us attribute the name John to the fourth chapter in the New Testament Bible. John was one of the 12 disciples to Jesus and was an eyewitness to the verses he wrote. (I had thought incorrectly that it was written by John the Baptist.) Since then, many Christians have honored his life by naming their children, John.

Now, let’s look at some of the expressions and idioms that have evolved through the years using the name, John. What jumps up first?

Why of course, “Johnny on the spot”! This phrase was first used in the year 1880 and is defined as a person who is first to perform a service or respond to an emergency. “Johnny on the spot” beat out “Johnny come lately” by a whisker. 

Is that how the expression, “Johnny come lately” originated?

Well, not exactly. I did some digging into the origin of “Johnny come Lately” and came up with some interesting facts. In the early 1800’s, a sailor in the British Navy who just enlisted on the ship was called “Johnny newsome.” 

The American version came along in a novel written in 1839 by Charles F. Briggs. In it, a young mizzen topman (sailor perched on a platform above hull and below mast) says, “But it’s Johnny come lately, ain’t it, you?”

In modern day lingo, Johnny come lately has come to mean an opportunist who comes in late to a group, idea, or movement and acts superior, arrogant and more all knowing than the rest. MY best example is Al Gore, who says he invented the internet. 

Sure… when you go to a bank and the teller asks you to put your John Hancock on the dotted line, you politely sign your name. John Hancock was known for his flamboyant signature on the Declaration of Independence in 1776. Those present at the signing who wanted to remain anonymous for fear of the British hunting them down probably signed “John Doe”... Just saying. 

Even before American independence, the name “John” was used in the 1600’s to describe Dutch settlers in New Amsterdam (now New York). Back then, a Dutch settler was labeled “John Cheese” for his farming and dairy background (not for his favorite pizza topping).

Ever wonder how the term “Yankees” originated? Due to a slight European accent, John Cheese became Yankees. Now you know.

A lady of the evening commonly refers to her customer as her “John”. This is because he wants to remain anonymous. Then there was the expression “Stage Door Johnny” which refers to a person who frequents a theater for the purpose of courting an actress or chorus girl. Today, that expression would be changed to “Stalker Johnny” and the cops would be “Johnny on the spot” getting him arrested.

One of my most favorite songs of the 60’s was “Johnny Angel” sung by Shelly Fabares. If he was a “Johnny Reb” I can bet he was no angel.

Due to the popular first name John, the last name Johnson had also become popular. I get it, Son of John equals Johnson. Soon thereafter, the name became synonymous with a certain part of the male anatomy. I don’t know who got the first last name Johnson, but I’m sure he was quite popular with the women. 

“Long John?”

While we’re at it, how did Long John Silver become so famous that they named a restaurant after him? Was it because of his underwear garment or something tucked inside it…hmmm? (Other Pirates on the ship named Willy, Peter and Dick must have been jealous).

I could go on and on about other names that have become famous idioms. For instance, how about Joe cool, average Joe, ordinary Guy (my favorite), Jack of all trades, A boy named Sue, Jim Crow, Jim Dandy, Luke warm, Adam’s Apple, Dapper Dan, Peeping Tom, Tricky Dick, Poor Richard, Good Neighbor Sam, Typhoid Mary, Raising Cain, Round Robin, Katy bar the doors, heavens to Betsy, No way Jose, Peter out, robbing Peter to pay Paul, no #$%^ Sherlock, Joe Mamma, Honest Abe, By George, Jolly Roger or “please don’t be a Karen.”

Sorry to cut this article short but I have to go to the “John”. See you later!

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