Johnny-come-lately is an idiom that may be traced to the 1830s, though it is probably older. An idiom is a word, group of words or phrase that has a figurative meaning that is not easily deduced from its literal definition. Often using descriptive imagery, common idioms are words and phrases used in the English language in order to convey a concise idea, and are often spoken or are considered informal or conversational. English idioms can illustrate emotion more quickly than a phrase that has a literal meaning, even when the etymology or origin of the idiomatic expression is lost. An idiom is a metaphorical figure of speech, and it is understood that it is not a use of literal language. Figures of speech have definitions and connotations that go beyond the literal meaning of the words. Mastery of the turn of phrase of an idiom or other parts of speech is essential for the English learner. Many English as a Second Language students do not understand idiomatic expressions such as beat around the bush, ballpark figure, let the cat out of the bag, hit the sack, close but no cigar, barking up the wrong tree, kick the bucket, a dime a dozen, under the weather, piece of cake, when pigs fly, and raining cats and dogs, as they attempt to translate them word for word, which yields only the literal meaning. In addition to learning vocabulary and grammar, one must understand the phrasing of the figurative language of idiomatic phrases in order to know English like a native speaker. We will examine the meaning of the expression Johnny-come-lately, where it came from and some examples of its use in sentences.

A Johnny-come-lately is someone who arrives late to an institution, organization, activity, or cause. A Johnny-come-lately is a novice or a newcomer, especially one who tries to assert influence or control without having any experience or knowledge concerning the task at hand. Sometimes a person is a Johnny-come-lately because he wants to watch others attempt to solve a problem to make sure the effort will be a success, or that the participants will be on the winning side. It is generally a negative thing to be considered a Johnny-come-lately. Johnny-come-lately may be used as a noun or as an adjective before a noun. The term Johnny-come-lately originated in the United States during the 1800s, the earliest known use found in the 1839 novel The Adventures of Harry Franco by Charles Frederick Briggs. The name Johnny has been used as a generic name for a man since the 1600s. Note that Johnny-come-lately is properly rendered with hyphens in all situations, and that the proper name Johnny is capitalized. The plural form may be rendered as Johnnies-come-lately, but the far more popular plural form is Johnny-come-latelies.


Look for him to focus heavily on his longtime advocacy for Medicare for All, in an effort to differentiate himself from the Johnny-come-lately Democrats who have only embraced single-payer health care since it became a mainstream position. (GQ Magazine)

Because whisky (or whiskey as it is known in Johnny-come-lately jurisdictions such as Ireland and America) takes such a long time to make, planning for fluctuations in demand is difficult. (The Economist)

NDP policies and Notley’s coziness with Liberal Prime Minister Justin Trudeau have done far too much damage to that city’s economy for voters there to be bought off by Notley’s Johnny-Come-Lately, Guardian-of-the-Oil-Industry act. (The Edmonton Sun)

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