This week I removed the phase Johnny on the spot from my current work in progress. If you know anything about me, you know I live and breathe clichés. I love the way they roll off the tongue and how they get right to the heart of the matter with as few words as possible. The problem was, I didn’t really know what Johnny on the spot meant.
Here’s what I learned. The phrase is used most of the time to refer to an unusually alert man or boy, capable of decisive action, ready to seize an opportunity or deal with an emergency, who is always there at the right time. How’s that for a mouthful?
It can also be used to refer to a person who is habitually early, an early riser, the first arrival on the scene, or someone on time but not early. Quite a versatile little cliché, don’t you think?
The name John or Johnny referred to a fellow or chap in seventeenth century Britain, and became a man-about-town in the 1880s. The first noted appearance of Johnny on the spot was reportedly in 1895 in an issue of the New York Times.
Johnny apparently got about town pretty quickly, and was soon joined by John Doe, John Henry, Dear John, Johnny Appleseed, stage-door-Johnny, and John Q. Public. Johnny also referred to a short muslin gown that tied in the back, worn in hospitals. One enterprising entrepreneur started a business called Johnny on the Spot and is now a leader in portable restroom rentals!
The point is, clichés are awesome! What’s your favorite?