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

Dennis R. Preston preston at PILOT.MSU.EDU
Fri May 14 16:54:01 UTC 1999


I suspect the first of your interpretations since my father did not have
the male genitals sense of "Johnson" (although, as you point out, the
latter sense is old, but in my experience it is more common in the
African-American community in the US).


>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

Dennis R. Preston
Department of Linguistics and Languages
Michigan State University
East Lansing MI 48824-1027 USA
preston at
Office: (517)353-0740
Fax: (517)432-2736

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