Posted by ESC on August 26, 2001

In Reply to: Johnny-on-the-spot posted by R. Berg on August 26, 2001


: The Dictionary of American Slang says it's been around since about 1895 but gives no further explanation of its origin. The name John and its relatives (Jacques, Jack, Johnny . . . ) turn up in many phrases to mean an unspecified male, as in John Doe.

JOHNNIE -- "Johnnie meant fellow, chap in English by the 17th century and a man-about-town in the 1880s. 'Johnny-Come-Lately' was in use in America by the 1830s. 'Johnny-on-the-spot' by the 1890s and 'stage-door Johnny' by 1912.'" From "John and Mary:Common First Names," a chapter in Listening to America: An Illustrated History of Words and Phrases from Our Lively and Splendid Past by Stuart Berg Flexner (Simon and Schuster, New York, 1982). Johnny-on-the-spot is a noun that means "an unusually alert fellow who is capable of decisive action, seizing an opportunity, etc. Also (obs.) 'Johnny-on-the-job.' 1896 Ade 'Artie' 19: She was settin' over in the corner, and a Johnny-on-the-spot, with a big badge, marked 'Committee,' was tryin' to keep cases on her. Ibid. 63. I'll be Johnny-on-the-spot to see that everything's on the level.'" From the Random House Historical Dictionary of American Slang, Volume 2, H-O by J.E. Lighter, Random House, New York, 1994.