‘Johnny Foreigner’: meaning and origin

A pet form of John, Johnny is used, with modifying word, to designate a person, especially a man, of the type, group, profession, etc., specified. For example:
Onion Johnny, also Johnny Onions, was a generic name for an onion-seller from Brittany;
Johnny Crapaud is used to personify France or the French people, or to designate a typical Frenchman;
Johnny Arab is an offensive generic name for an Arab man.
—Cf. also Joe Six-Pack in American English, and Joe Bloggs and Joe Soap in British English.

Likewise, the derogatory British-English expression Johnny Foreigner (also Johnny foreigner and johnny foreigner) is used:
– to denote a person from a country other than those which make up the United Kingdom;
– to personify people from a country other than those which make up the United Kingdom.

This expression is also used in American English [cf., below, quotation 3]:
– to denote a person from a country other than the USA;
– to personify people from a country other than the USA.

The earliest occurrences of the expression Johnny Foreigner that I have found are as follows, in chronological order:

1-: From Chums (London, England) of Wednesday 24th May 1899—as quoted in the Oxford English Dictionary (online edition, March 2022):

“Now,” muttered Billy, “you Johnny foreigners will get cold pudding in three minutes.”

2-: From Report From Britain’s Election Front, about how the forthcoming general election is reflected in London’s Royal Borough of Kensington, by Norman Moss, published in The New York Times (New York City, New York, USA) of Sunday 22nd May 1955—Bob Bulbrook is a 57-year-old Cockney gas worker who represents the Conservative Party:

Mr. Bulbrook’s voice is like a crosscut saw biting into a tree. He is talking to about sixty people on the country’s economic situation, and he has a winning way with them. There seems little apathy here.
“All we got in this country is coals and brains. ’At’s all. We got enough food to feed 20 million, but there’s 50 million mouths going open and shut all the time like this. The only way we can get food to feed ’em with is to sell things to the foreigners. That means that everybody, the worker and the boss, all’s got to get together to give Johnny Foreigner the stuff to put in ’is shop windows. Otherwise ’e’ll just buy ’em from somebody else.”

The expression Johnny Foreigner also occurs in the caption to the following photograph, illustrating Report From Britain’s Election Front, published in The New York Times (New York City, New York, USA) of Sunday 22nd May 1955:

CONSERVATIVE MEETING—Addressing a street crowd in predominantly Laborite North Kensington is 57-year-old Bob Bulbrook, a Cockney gas worker who is opposing Rogers. If Britain is to survive, he tells his hearers, “everybody, the worker and the boss, all’s got to get together to give Johnny Foreigner the stuff to put in his shop windows.”

3-: From the following letter, published in The Scranton Tribune (Scranton, Pennsylvania, USA) of Wednesday 4th November 1959:

Import Controls
Editor, The Tribune.
Sir: I am astonished at the remarks of Treasury Secretary Anderson at the finance ministers’ meeting in Washington. There are really no true dollar payment and import controls.
What’s happening is as natural as the rising of the sun! Johnny Foreigner sells us goods because our importers find a ready market for it on our shelves.
Johnny Foreigner then wants to purchase American goods with the proceeds of his sale to us. But he finds he can buy more cheaply in other countries. He therefore takes his selling price from us in gold. How else can he be paid?
P. L.

4 & 5-: From the column This crazy world, by ‘Man of the people’, published in The People (London, England):

4-: Of Sunday 30th October 1966:

For my Continental friends, ever amused at our quaint ideas of human-animal priorities, I offer this item to set them rolling in the ristorantes and bellowing in the bistros.
A lady named Miss Dorothy Hargood-Ash, aged 70, has made an official complaint about the maroon gun which calls out the lifeboat crew at Salcombe, Devon.
She says the bang frightens her poodle.
Still, if there’s one thing we British have over these johnny foreigners it is our genius for compromise.

5-: Of Sunday 14th January 1968:

Too damned smug. That’s been our trouble for years. Look at the way we go rabbiting on about our wonderful system of justice. Show these johnny foreigners a thing or two about fair play, eh?

6-: From The Economist (London, England) of Saturday 12th December 1970:

What are the secrets of the subscriber trunk dialling code? Aha! Mr Laurie has an idea about all that! If he can be believed, Britain is ready for any fiendish tricks Johnnie Foreigner may dream up.

7-: From Why must training for tomorrow be a dead turn-off?, published in The Guardian (London and Manchester, England) of Monday 3rd December 1984:

With half a million construction workers on the dole, even the building industry is knocking up against skill bottlenecks. We simply do not train the people we need for today’s jobs. Far less tomorrow’s.
The truth of the matter is that industrial training is a dead turn-off for most of us. Last week, Tom King, our worthy Employment Secretary, launched the Campaign for Adult Training. […]
Mr King’s message was that Johnny Foreigner does it better than us. In Germany, in Japan and in the United States, these bottlenecks just do not happen.

8-: From Why Mrs Thatcher 1 has set her face against EMS 2, by Christopher Huhne, published in The Guardian (London and Manchester, England) of Thursday 3rd July 1986:

The Prime Minister does not like the idea of having to raise interest rates to defend a parity in the run-up to an election, since she does not want higher mortgage rates worrying potential Tory voters.
Nor does she like the idea of going cap in hand to Mr. Chirac 3 or Chancellor Kohl 4 to agree to a realignment if the rise in interest rates proved unsustainable: it is much more likely that the average voter will not notice that the pound has gone bump in the night if you do not have to ask assorted Johnny Foreigners for permission to let it drop.

1 Margaret Thatcher (1925-2013) was then the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom.
2 EMS: European Monetary System, a monetary system inaugurated by the European Community in 1979 to coordinate and stabilise the exchange rates of the currencies of member countries.
3 Jacques Chirac (1932-2019) was then the President of the French Republic.
4 Helmut Kohl (1930-2017) was then the Chancellor of the Federal Republic of Germany.

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