A new equivalent of "Joe Blow"?

Benjamin Zimmer bgzimmer at RCI.RUTGERS.EDU
Mon Jan 3 20:41:09 UTC 2005

On Mon, 3 Jan 2005 15:13:39 -0500, Baker, John <JMB at STRADLEY.COM> wrote:

>        In this early use from 1932, "Joe Blow" was used as a pseudonym by
>a bootlegger during Prohibition:
><<At the time of the seizure of the car and the arrest of defendant, Vito
>Luppino, the officers took from his person a receipted invoice covering a
>purchase by one 'Joe Blow' of 480 square five-gallon cans with 1 3/4 inch
>screw caps from the American Can Company of Portland, Or. When the
>officers raided the still in Yakima, Wash., they found two or three
>hundred square five-gallon cans with 1 3/4 inch screw caps similar to the
>ones that were delivered under the above-mentioned invoice.>>
>Cody v. United States, 73 F.2d 180, 183 (9th Cir. 1934).  Luppino was
>arrested on January 16, 1932, so the invoice would have been signed
>shortly before that time.
>        Note that, while this shows that "Joe Blow" was in use by 1932, it
>also shows that the fake name was sufficiently unusual that members of the
>underworld were willing to use it to cover their tracks (though, in
>hindsight, Luppino might have been better advised to call himself John

By 1930, "Joe Blow" was being used by sports writers to refer to
hypothetical so-and-so's:

Chicago Daily Tribune, Aug 26, 1930, p. 17
Characters -- Joe Blow, ardent National league fan, and Gus J. Fan,
American league devotee.
Syracuse Herald, Nov 7, 1930, p. 33
For instance, 20 years ago on certain campuses a young freshman might be
pointed out as the son of old Joe Blow. You remember Joe Blow, the fellow
who dropped the punt in the annual clash with old Hooey and lost the game.

There are also earlier references to fictional and real-life Joe Blows --
in this 1919 story, it's the nickname for a blowhard:

(Lincoln, Nebraska) Evening State Journal, Feb 20, 1919
The Blowhard.
"He's told me a new tale about himself and his family every time that he's
seen a moving picture. When he came here first I believed him -- until one
day he told me that his brother, who was on board a battleship, took the
ship out to sea for a ten mile spin after the crew had gone ashore. On his
return the crew hailed him with wild cheers at his nerve. That's why we
named him Joe Blow." -- Chicago Daily News.

There are several cites for "Joe Blow" between 1908 and 1918 as the name
of a fictitious bookie in William F. Kirk's serialized stories of "The
Manicure Lady", e.g.:

Washington Post, May 10, 1908, p. CO3
[also in: Lima (Ohio) Daily News, April 30, 1908, p. 3]
The Manicure Lady; She Has Her Own Ideas on Woman's Courage
By William F. Kirk.
"Joe Blow, the bookmaker, got his nails did yesterday," said the Manicure
Washington Post, Nov 1, 1908, p. CO3
The Manicure Lady; She Knows a Would-Be Sport As Far As She Can See One
By William F. Kirk.
"When I see a nice young gent, like that one who just left here, trying to
tell me what a sport he is, and then when I look into the next chair and
see Joe Blow, the bookmaker, never saying a word about his wild and woolly
past, I can't help thinking that still waters run deep."

Earlier still, there was a real-life Joe Blow who died in Los Angeles in
1897 and was the subject of a protracted legal dispute over the money he
had hoarded in his back yard.  The courts determined that his name was
really Joseph Blow and awarded the money to a Blow family in England:

Los Angeles Times, Aug 19, 1899, p. 10
Claimants for the hoarded wealth of old Joseph Blow, how has been dead
since December 17, 1897, are becoming numerous. Among them is Mrs. J.
Kinsella of Syracuse, N.Y., who alleges that she was a sister of the dead
Former Public Administrator Kelsey inclines to the opinion that Mrs.
Kinsella is mistaken in her contention that Joseph Blow was her brother.
She says his true name was Joseph Coglan, and that Joe Blow was a name he
adopted when a boy because he liked the sound of it.
Los Angeles Times, Feb 27, 1900, p. I10
Was English, Some German and Some Irish, but the Probate Court Has the
Question to Answer--Proof Thus Far Seems to Favor the English.
Los Angeles Times. Feb 28, 1900, p. I10
Judge Shaw Finds That Joe Blow Was an Englishman and Gives His Estate to
the English Claimants.
Los Angeles Times, Oct 7, 1900, p. III4
The estate of old Joe Blow the mysterious old miser who died in this city
about three years ago, leaving buried treasure in a tomato can out in his
back yeart, has at last been distributed ... A brother and a sister and
the five children of a deceased brother, Charles, all residents of
England, inherit his wealth. A final distribution was ordered in the
estate of Charles Blow yesterday, which consisted solely of the
inheritance from Brother Joe.

It's conceivable that the case of "Old Joe Blow" could have helped
popularize the name, leading to its eventual use as a hypothetical
nickname (later to be joined by Joe Schmo, Joe Bloggs, Joe Dokes, Joe
Soap, et al.)

--Ben Zimmer

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