Green’s Dictionary of Slang

John n.

also john
[commonness of the name; note police/legal jargon John Doe, any anonymous male suspect, victim etc.]

1. a generic term for a man.

[UK]Nashe Choise of Valentines (1899) 4: Where to, the contrie franklins flock-meale swarme, And Jhon [sic] and Jone come marching arme in arme.
[UK]G. Mynshul Essayes of Prison n.p.: Three kinds of persons [...] 1. A Parasite. 2. A Iohn indifferent. 3. A true harted Titus.
[UK]Cheats of London Exposed 88: Plain John is liable to be deluded by the pomp of a train, or glare of a necklace.
[UK]New Cheats of London Exposed 8: If poor John catches at the bait, they then put the liquor about briskly.
[US]H. Green Maison De Shine 10: I wisht I was a big lady, an’ I’d have more Johns buyin’ me joolry.
[UK]‘Doss Chiderdoss’ ‘Games For Girls’ Sporting Times 20 Aug. 1/3: In this paper here / Is a paragraph worth studyin’ by all the Jills and Johns.
[US] ‘Gila Monster Route’ in N. Anderson Hobo 195: But the john had a bundle, the worker’s plea, / So he gave him a floater and set him free.
[US]M.C. Sharpe Chicago May (1929) 205: Present day men have nothing on some of the Old Testament Johns for dirt.
[US]‘R. Scully’ Scarlet Pansy 31: A knowledge of ‘Johns’ had not yet been vouchsafed to her.
[US]‘Mae West in “The Hip Flipper”’ [comic strip] in B. Adelman Tijuana Bibles (1997) 92: She could at least find a john who wouldn’t send her home with hot nuts.
[Aus]R. Park Poor Man’s Orange 234: Who’da thought it, eh, and her with the stren’th of ten when it comes to bashing johns over the ned.
[SA]A. La Guma Walk in the Night (1968) 4: Me, I never work for no white john. [Ibid.] 115: You know you can’t fight no white john here.
[US](con. 1940s) G. Mandel Wax Boom 17: ‘Who’s the guy with the Buffalo Bill bush on his face?’ ‘Some new John.’.
[US]H. Rawson Dict. of Invective (1991) 280: Other generics include: [...] John, any man [...], whether alone, as in the prostitute’s faceless john, or in such combinations as John Bull (an Englishman).

2. (also Johnnie, Johnny) a male servant, private or public.

[UK] ‘Dunmore Kate’ in Playford Pills to Purge Melancholy II 221: This Footman swore he was a Lord [...] But when she heard one call out John, / Up rose her Spark, and strait was gone .
[UK]Fifteen Comforts of a Wanton Wife 4: She makes a League with John her Man.
[UK]Sporting Mag. Apr. X 60/2: The Servant lets him in, with dismal face, [...] John’s countenance as rueful looked, and grim.
[UK]‘Black John’ in Out-and-Outer in Spedding & Watt (eds) Bawdy Songbooks (2011) IV 145: Such a leg for a stocking no Johnny could show, / All the lick-dishes envied him much.
[UK]Crim.-Con. Gaz. 29 Sept. 47/1: John had like to have lost the carpet bag which contained my toggery.
[UK]R.S. Surtees Handley Cross (1854) 41: Out comes the portly butler with a ‘Now then! Missis coming down!’ whereupon the Johnnies [...] take a position on each side of the barouche door.
[UK]R.S. Surtees Handley Cross (1854) 416: Johns and Jehus touch their lace-daubed ’ats.
[UK]R.S. Surtees Young Tom Hall (1926) 98: ‘Now Johnny,’ exclaimed the colonel, as none of them [i.e. footmen] seemed inclined to lend a hand — ‘now, Johnny [...] open the door and let the ladies out’.
[UK]R.S. Surtees Mr Sponge’s Sporting Tour 76: Mr Jawleyford started life with two most unimpeachable Johns [...] silk-stockinged and pumped in full-dress Jawleyford livery .
[UK]R.S. Surtees Mr Sponge’s Sporting Tour 188: In those days great people went about like great people, [...] with plethoric three-corner-hatted coachmen, and gigantic, lace-bedizened, quivering-calved Johnnies.
[UK]Sportsman (London) 2 Feb. 2/1: ‘Is they low church or high church, sir?’ asked the waiter of the host [...] ‘Why, John?’ was the natural query.
[UK]London Life 30 Aug. 6/2: Is it any wonder that John and Jeames [...] smile cynically to one another and wink.

3. (US) an Englishman [abbr. John Bull n.1 ].

[UK]J. Wetherell Adventures of John Wetherell (1954) 263: We are not franks but true-blooded Johns!
[UK]T. Moore in Times 14 Apr. 3: But cheer up John, Sawney, and Paddy, / The King is your father they say.
[UK]Satirist (London) 22 May 49/1: [advert] Reform is the word with Johns, Sandies, and Pats, / And why not applied to corruption in hats?
[Ind]Bellew Memoirs of a Griffin I 269: That Irish reciprocity of rights which John and Jonathan are so prone to patronize.
[US]Life in Boston & N.Y. (Boston, MA) 1 Oct. n.p.: An Englishman never dances above the waist [...] John enters into a cotillion not so much to enjoy himself as to do penance.
[UK]‘Jolly’ John Nash [perf.] ‘Don’t Talk to Me about Invasion’ 🎵 John spent his money then on ships and guns and men, / [...] /One Englishman was then as good as three Frenchmen.
[UK] in Punch 31 Jan. 54: Ten art’cles in your Times, JOHN, / Hev giv me good advice. / I mind th’ old Slavery crimes, JOHN. / I don’t need tellin’ twice.
[UK]E.W. Rogers [perf. Marie Lloyd] The Red and The White and The Blue 🎵 John and Jonathan brothers for ever.
[US]H. Green Actors’ Boarding House (1906) 125: Want to be careful of those Johns on the other side.

4. (also John Chow, Johnny) a derog. term for a Chinese man [abbr. John Chinaman n.].

[US]Alta Calif. 20 Apr. 2/2: The May Adams brought 118 ‘Johns’ from the terrestrial kingdom of heaven [DA].
[US]Soulé, Gihon & Nisbet Annals of S.F. 379: ‘John’s’ person does not smell very sweetly.
[Aus]Bell’s Life in Sydney 29 July 2/7: John Chinaman, so called from want of knowing his true Celestial appellation, was charged with absenting him- self from the service of his master. Bench–What is your name? John–Cheewi Chowi Chuwi.
[US] in ‘Mark Twain’ Innocents at Home (1872) 395: John likes it [opium], though; it soothes him; he takes about two dozen whiffs, and then rolls over to dream, Heaven only knows what, for we could not imagine by looking at the soggy creature.
[UK]Sportsman 2 Dec. 2/1: Notes on News [...] [T]he ‘red’ candidate bargained for so much per head that the headman should poll all his Chinese for him. The ‘blue’ [...] gave a trifle more. John, however, voted for neither.
[US]B. Harte Luck of Roaring Camp (1873) 245: My acquaintance with John has been made up of weekly interviews, involving the adjustment of the washing accounts, so that I have not been able to study his character from a social view-point or observe him in the privacy of the domestic circle.
[Aus]Brisbane Courier 30 Aug. 6/2: John Chinaman has once more outwitted the Fanqui in the matter of petty gambling. In spite of special Acts [...] John perseveres in indulging in the delights of fan-tan and pak-a-pu.
[US]F.H. Hart Sazerac Lying Club 208: To Chinatown the Indians resort for a miserable compound miscalled whisky, which is furnished them by the keen ‘Johns’ at an enormous profit.
[Aus]Bulletin (Sydney) 1 May 3/3: The Chinese libel law is understood to be a peculiar one. All same, welly good, Johnny.
[US]Anderson Intelligencer (SC) 1 Mar. 1/5: There are now in Augusta about a score of Chinamen [...] John has come to stay.
[Aus]Bulletin (Sydney) 22 Oct. 8/1: Though John’s an evil-smelling cuss / (Which rather sounds like libel) / He might be made a little wuss / By taking up the Bible / And acting like believers do; / So, therefore, we agree then / You show your common sense, Chin Foo, / In still remaining heathen.
[Aus]H. Nisbet ‘Bail Up!’ 48: ‘Seeky wolk [...] anything you like.’ ‘Can you give this Johnny work, Mr. Graves?’.
[Aus]H. Lawson ‘Jones’s Alley’ in Roderick (1972) 37: Mrs Aspinall even sought the sympathy of ‘John’ the Chinaman.
[UK]Mirror of Life 3 Feb. 3/4: One of the strangest superstitions of Chinamen is the awe with which they regard the cockroach. John holds the ugly black pest as something sacred.
[Aus]Truth (Sydney) 19 Feb. 3/7: There is but one luxury upon which John will spend money with appreciative liberality, and that is on what is mainly a product of his own land — opium.
[US]‘Frederick Benton Williams’ (H.E. Hamblen) On Many Seas 58: His shot and the cheer of his crew having warned the Chinamen of his approach, [and] as his crew were armed with six- shooters, ‘John’ soon found it advisable to keep his head below the rail.
[UK]J. Conrad Typhoon 140: His brusque ‘Come along, John; make look see’ set the Chinaman in motion at his heels.
[Aus]Sun. Times (Perth) 23 Dec. 1/1: The latest from Northam is an Chow under-age girl episode [and] when the girlie complained john was threatened with the law.
[US]K. McGaffey Sorrows of a Show Girl Ch. xvi: Bartenders are called George just like Chinamen are called John? What are you trying to bale out to me?
[Aus]Sun. Times (Perth) 24 Apr. 3rd sect. 17/4: But the joke is that Mr. P. is daily served and waited on at his club by yellow-fanged Chows, one of them being the identical John whose patronage of a store was a bar to his own exclusive custom.
[US]B. Fisher Mutt & Jeff 2 Oct. [synd. cartoon] — No, John, you can’t spend a cent, you’re out guest. — Melicans heap fine gentlemen.
[US]D. Lowrie My Life in Prison 26: The Chinaman was much elated at the way I took it [...] ‘How long have you been here, John?’ I inquired.
[NZ]Truth (Wellington) 22 June 1/4: Opium dens [...Where John Chow leaves stinks behind him.
[NZ]Truth (Wellington) 6 Apr. 6/4: ‘John’ (Chinaman) railed off the wheat from the chaff.
[US]P.A. Rollins Cowboy 165: If [...] the cook were a Chinaman, these entitlements of cookie and old lady severally were supplanted by ‘John’ and ‘that damned chink’.
[UK]‘Bartimeus’ ‘A Man in the Making’ Seaways 196: ‘Go ahead, John!’ said Euan magnificently to the coolie.
[US]Irwin Amer. Tramp and Und. Sl. 111: John. – [...] a Chinaman, from the days when no one made any effort to find out what this Chinese or that was called, and merely used the convenient ‘John.’.
[US]J.A.W. Bennett ‘English as it is Spoken in N.Z.’ in AS XVIII:2 Apr. 89: A Chinese (generally known as ‘John’) is a Chow (a derivative of ‘Chowchow’).
P. Johnston Gold Rush 11/1: The despised ‘Johns’ were permitted to pan gold in peace, provided they paid their foreign miners’ tax when it was due [DA].
[NZ]McGill Dict. of Kiwi Sl. 63/2: john Chinese, from mid C19 goldminers calling them John Chinamen.
[NZ]McGill Reed Dict. of N.Z. Sl. [as cit. 1988].

5. a general term of address, orig. of white men by immigrants etc, irrespective of actual name, e.g. Hello, John, got a new motor etc.

[US] in R.W. Paul Mining Frontiers of the Far West (1963) [illus. caption] 108: Strings of Chinamen pass, and greet you in broken English with ‘how do you do, John?’.
[US]DN V 37: John, n. Proper first name, applied to any male Indian by the whites.
[UK]G. Lamming Emigrants (1980) 111: ‘’Ave ’alf pint o’ bitter John?’ ‘My name aint John.’.
[WI]S. Selvon Ways of Sunlight 130: ‘John,’ Rahamut turn to the English fellar, ‘you didn’t witness everything?’.
[UK]J. Sullivan ‘The Yellow Peril’ Only Fools and Horses [TV script] John, you know, John, it’s the expression, cockney expression. Alright John and all that.
[UK]A. Sayle Train to Hell 79: ‘I don’t believe it!’ shouted Slobbo. ‘I’m your biggest fan! Hello John got a new motor!’.
[UK]J. Cameron It Was An Accident 56: Buy one here one and a half, sell it round Africa four to five. No problem john.
[UK]J. Cameron Hell on Hoe Street 114: Say no more John.
[UK]M. Herron Secret Hours 163: [He] also went on to address the barman, two other drinkers, the quiz machine and his own cigarette packet as John.

6. (S.Afr.) a generic term for any male black servant.

E. Glanville Fair Colonist 76: ‘What is your name, John?’ — all black men being Johns when they are not Boys .
[SA]O. Walker Kaffirs are Lively 27: Not all of them are strictly black, round-headed and answering to the generic names of ‘John’, ‘Mary’, ‘Jim’ or ‘Annie’.
letter in Natal Mercury Apr. 8 11: So far as the expression ‘John’ goes, what else could be nicer or more friendly than ‘What can I do for you, John?’ when serving a Native from behind a counter when you do not know his name. Would Mr Jill say to him. What can I do for you, Sir? as if he were a European? It is also incorrect to say that these two expressions (‘John’ and ‘boy’) are used on Africans only: they are used on Indians also, in fact with any non-European [DSAE].
J. Lelyveld in Cole & Flaherty House of Bondage 15 : A large proportion of whites don’t trouble themselves to call their servants by their own names, sometimes they use a common name like John whether it belongs to the man or not [DSAE].
Weekend World 31 July Cl: None of these terms has ever found favour with blacks ... The days when we would be called ‘John’, ‘Boy’, ‘Meid’, and so on are over [DSAE].
[SA]C. Hope Separate Development 46: ‘What is your name?’ [...] ‘It’s John, baas. My name is John.’ I began to understand then that not only were they everywhere, but they were all called John.

7. (US) a jack in poker [punning on the name Jack].

[US]J.W. Carr ‘Words from Northwest Arkansas’ in DN III:ii 143: john, n. Facetious name of the knave or jack in a pack of cards.
[US]Hecht & MacArthur Front Page Act I: How’d I know you were out? Two Johns. Ladies, etc.

In compounds

john farmer (n.) [sense 1 above + SE farmer]

(US) an ordinary farmer.

[US]Monteleone Criminal Sl. (rev. edn).
[US]H. Rawson Dict. of Invective (1991) 192: As for country dwellers, in addition to hick, names and nicknames that have been used disaparagingly as generics include: [...] John Farmer (or John Family, John Hoosier, or simply John — or, for that matter, simply farmer).