Are Johnny-come-lately and Johnny-on-the-spot one and the same? If not, are they related? Does he (or they) also go by another “John” nickname like Jack, as in Jack-of-all-trades, master-of-none?
The idiom Johnny-come-lately has been used since the 1890s. It first appeared in print as early as 1839 in the Charles F. Briggs novel The Adventures of Harry Franco. Some believe the expression evolved from “Johnny newcomer,” a term used in the United States Navy to describe a new seaman on a ship. Presumably, this name was changed to ‘Johnny-come-lately’ and used as a general label. Today, the expression commonly refers to someone who has only recently started a job or activity and has suddenly become very successful.
The New York Sun ran an article in April 1896, “JOHNNY ON THE SPOT A New Phrase Which Has Become Popular in New York.” While its origin is unclear, the syndicated article helped spread the term’s usage. It refers to someone, not necessarily named Johnny, who tends to be at the right place and time to take advantage of a situation. While sometimes used sarcastically, this idiom can also reflect someone ready to lend genuine care and assistance.
Jack-of-all-trades, master-of-none is a figure of speech referring to one with many skills but limited expertise in any particular talent. One report indicates the term Robert Greene dismissively implied in a booklet about an actor-turned-playwright, William Shakespeare. However, the “master-of-none” closer appears to have been added to the expression in the late 18th Century. Today’s usage of the beginning clause is often used as a complimentary reference.
As a side note, another Johnny reference, “Here’s Johnny,” was popularized when Jack Nicholson ad-libbed the line in the horror movie, The Shining. Nicholson, whose character title was John, stole the line from Ed McMahon’s signature introductory phase to welcome Johnny Carson to his famed Tonight Show. As it so happened, the movie’s producer was from England, and so he was unfamiliar with the catchphrase and let it stay in production. Today it stands out as an iconic line in American cinematography.
This Sunday, we honor someone who can be described as a Johnny-come-lately, a Johnny-on-the-spot, and a Jack-of-all-trades. His name is neither Johnny nor Jack, but Matthias. The Apostle Matthias was a follower of Jesus but came late to the party of twelve disciples as the replacement for the late Judas
Iscariot. He was on the spot, ready to accept the call. His varied skills and talent led the Holy Spirit to have the other disciples cast lots in his favor. Following Vatican II in 1969, The Feast of Saint Matthias was moved to May 14 so it would be celebrated outside of Lent and closer to the Solemnity of the Ascension.
We invite you to join us for worship on the Feast of Saint Matthias (not Johnny) this Sunday, May 14, at 8:00 AM (spoken), 10:15 AM (traditional), or 6:00 PM (contemporary). Be a Johnny-on-the-spot: Invite your mom or other significant maternal influence to worship the Lord as part of your Mother’s Day celebration.