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Man turning off alarm clock. Johnny-come-lately

Johnny-Come-Lately Definition

A Johnny-come-lately.

  • Newcomer; an upstart.
  • A late or recent arrival.
  • Someone who is late to join a job or recently joined a competitive scene.


Johnny John or Jack were all names once used to refer to the common man, the ‘average joe’ as we might say today. The rest of the phrase is pretty self explanatory.

Johnny-Come-Lately Examples

  • My family was the first to discover the gold in these hills. Turning a profit didn’t become difficult until the Johnny-come-latelies showed up to stake their claim.
  • Remember Tracy, this Johnny-come-lately may have moved up the ranks quickly, but there’s nothing that can compare to the years of experience you have in the ring!


We’re Johnny-come-latelies. We live in the cosmic boondocks. We emerged from microbes and muck. Apes are our cousins. Our thoughts and feelings are not fully under our own control. There may be much smarter and very different beings elsewhere. And on top of all this, we’re making a mess of our planet and becoming a danger to ourselves.

Carl Sagan, Pale Blue Dot: A Vision of the Human Future in Space

Trilobites survived for a total of three hundred million years, almost the whole duration of the Palaeozoic era: who are we johnny-come-latelies to label them as either ‘primitive’ or ‘unsuccessful’? Men have so far survived half a per cent as long. 

Richard Fortey, Trilobite!

Johnny-Come-Lately Origin

He’s only some Johnny come lately, or he’d a heard of me. Why there ain’t a man in the Hawkesbury district as don’t know old John Smith ; and very few as don’t know where to find Congewoi.

Mr. Dangar, MEN WHO HAVE BEEN RAISED The Sydney Morning Herald, March 31, 1862

Our idiom’s earliest example in writing appears in an article in The Sydney Morning Herald titled MEN WHO HAVE BEEN RAISED. The article contains ramblings of one John Smith of Australia mostly focused on politics of the Australian Parliament. Written in a delicious western drawl the article is filled with old-world figurative speech like ‘I ain’t a-going to enter into a scribbling match, with coves that could lick me all to pieces at that sort of thing’ or ‘I’m nearer sixty than fifty years old, [but] I think I could take some of the shine out of him.’.

Mr. Smith talks at length about a Tom Dangar who was ‘about as rum an old cove as ever you come across’. With a little research, the article appears to reference a Thomas Gordon Gibbons Dangar born in Sydney in 1829 and elected to the New South Wales Legislative Assembly in 1865.

1800’s Australia shared many similarities with the American wild west. It had gold rushes with frontier settlements, outlaws, cowboys and plenty of hard drink!