the Johnson Bar's busted (Was Re: 1941 Quartermaster Corps lingo)

Gregory {Greg} Downing gd2 at IS2.NYU.EDU
Fri May 14 14:42:49 UTC 1999

At 09:45 AM 5/14/99 -0400, Dennis R. Preston wrote:
>My father (born 1907 southwestern IN, grew up southern IL, no military
>experience) used Johnson Bar (long before WWII) to refer to any
>"unspecified" ailment a car might have ("The Johnson Bar's broke"), usually
>to make fun of people without mechanical abilities (which he had, although
>as time passed and obscenities like automatic transmissions and overhead
>valve engines appeared, he often mocked his own lack of knowledge about
>these new-fangled gadgets with the same phrase).

Ah, OK -- so a few tentative thoughts. (1) Maybe it's based on the idea of
"Johnson" as a common, almost generic name. I.e., "the Johnson Bar,"
sarcastic for the "whachamacallit," but with a jocular pseudo-technological
overtone. There are car parts, as well as other mechanical devices, that are
named after their inventors. (2) Maybe, just maybe, there's a very faint
sarcastic whiff here of "johnson" as slang for the male genitalia????? (a
usage that dates back to the 19th cent.)

Greg Downing/NYU, at greg.downing at or gd2 at

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