Thursday, April 11, 2013

J is for Johnson

I wish I could remember which actor said that the word “Johnson” cracked him up. Every time he heard it, he just collapsed in fits of humor.

Well, it’s not that funny, but it is pretty amusing. How did penis come to claim the moniker, “Johnson.” You know, like in “Don’t be starin’ at my Johnson.” Or “He had a substantial Johnson and knew how to use it.”

I’m a word guy--but you knew that, right? Etymologies fascinate me. I took Greek in college because I was intrigued by breaking a code. (I am a reincarnated cryptographer from WWII, you know.)

I was the only NON pre-law/pre-med student taking a course called Greek and Latin Words in English. Fascinating!

My favorite wedding present was a dictionary. And my favorite Christmas present EVER was a copy of The Professor and the Madman (the making of the OED) accompanied by the compact OED!

Some words titillate (Is that etymologically related to “tits”? Answer: No), and we might call them “dirty”, “smutty”, or some other pejorative. But honestly, words are words. We impute meaning--connotation and denotation--but words are just words.

So back to Johnson. Where did it come from and why is it a synonym for penis? (Penis by the way hails to us from Latin and Greek and back to Indo-European meaning “tail”. Apt, eh?)

No one is quite sure how Johnson came into being, but theories abound.

In 19th century the term “John Thomas” came into British slang meaning penis. Some think Johnson derives from that.

Or was it from these more-likely-apochryphal usages: Large brake lever on a steam engine? Some say it is tribute to Dr. Samuel Johnson since there was “no one he was not prepared to stand up to.” It was meant to be a synonym for “membrum virile”. Or perhaps as recognition of the star of “Miami Vice”, Don Johnson, a sex-ay guy!

Whatever! With etymology, the fun is in the hunt. Hold onto your Johnson for the ride!


  1. I think the word Johnson comes from the same ilk that grab their penis when they sing, and talk to people with two fingers. Most of them I guess need to hang on to it to remind themselves they have one!

    1. LOL! I have to agree with you, Sandy! Thanks for the chuckle. I hope you drop in again.