"Pre-owned,""near miss," "s/he"

James A. Landau JJJRLandau at AOL.COM
Sat Sep 29 00:27:52 UTC 2001

In a message dated 09/28/2001 6:59:42 PM Eastern Daylight Time,
preston at PILOT.MSU.EDU writes:

> Hope ya'll know what a Johnson Bar is; hate to use technical terms.

A "Johnson bar" controls the amount and direction of the steam that enters
the cylinders in a steam locomotive.  (As a steam locomotive speeds up, the
amount of steam per stroke has to be changed.  As for direction, the Johnson
bar also controls whether the locomotive moves forward or back).

The Johnson bar works by rearranging the pivot points of the rods and levers
that connect the cylinders with the wheels.  If you can conjure up even a
vague image of a steam locomotive and realize how big those rods are, you can
easily understand that the Johnson bar has to be a substantical piece of

Earnest K. Gann in one of his books mentions an airplane which had a sizable
lever in the cockpit that was referred to, for reasons Mr. Gann never
understood, as a Johnson bar.  (As best as I can recall, it was "Band of
Brothers", the Ford Tri-Motor, and the lever controlled the brakes when the
plane was on the ground.)  Apparently somebody who was familiar with the
inside of a steam locomotive found that that lever reminded him of a Johnson

The OED2 has Johnson bar as "US, origin unknown" with the first cite from
1930 and an incomplete definition that describes it only as the reversing
lever, not as the device that also controlled the amount of steam allowed per
stroke.  There is a 1971 citation as the emergency brake handle on a truck
(presumably, like the Gann cite above, from the size or shape of the thing.)

A magazine article I once read said, or maybe admitted to theorizing, that
the original term was "jouncing bar" ("jouncin' bar") because it jounced

                           - Jim Landau

P.S.  The OED2 has "near miss" (under near, adjective) with 2 naval citations
from 1940, several citations in which the term appears to mean only "close
but missed safely", one citation reading "...a lot of bomb damage to repair
from a near miss..." implying that this near miss caused considerable damage,
and oh yes a 1973 quote about airplanes having near misses.

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