Talk:who shot John

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The idiom "who shot John" has nothing to do with Judge Judy, it's an old Texarkana expression. I've heard that expression since 1948, Judge Judy wasn't even a teenager then. It can mean "don't give me a rambling explanation", or "you look like somebody who needs an excuse for looking so bad". One example - a father says to child, "I want to know what happened, and leave out the who shot John." Or a dad tells his teenage daughter who has on too much inexpertly applied makeup and ripped jeans, "Don't go outside looking like who shot John." In both senses it means bullshit. Another example, "I got the whole who shot John already." Meaning, I have been overly informed ad nauseam about the situation. That the truth and no who shot John.

Deleted the etymology. DAVilla 02:36, 1 May 2007 (UTC)
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Anyone besides Judge Judy and fans? --Connel MacKenzie 05:03, 13 April 2007 (UTC)

I think I’ve heard this phrase all my life (or at least the last 50 years of it). —Stephen 05:35, 15 April 2007 (UTC)


Now cited, -ish. The cites don't actually seem to agree with the given etymology and sense. —RuakhTALK 18:20, 22 April 2007 (UTC)

RFV passed. DAVilla 02:36, 1 May 2007 (UTC)

I am just curious to know why this entry has not been corrected. I am over 55 years of age and my parents have used the term "lookin' like who shot john" for as long as I've been in the world. (Prior to 1979 as indicated here. I anticipate this entry will be deleted (and that's fine), I just wish to call it to the editors' attention that the wiktionary definitions here need to be corrected or at least include an asterisk as to the true origins of the phrase, even if that be unknown. My great grandmother (who just died at the ripe old age of 109.5) always said it. I think it's of southern origin because while I've almost always heard black people say it, I've heard some white folks down south use it. When I've heard it - "Girl you look like who shot John!" that meant we looked a mess, dishelved. clothes dirty or hair messy. I heard it most when I woke up in the morning with bed hair or after coming inside from playing outside. —This comment was unsigned.

I don't doubt what you say. But we didn't come across usage in the sense you mention when we were finding quotes for the definition we have. When someone has the chance, they may look for usage in books (probably fictional dialog) and insert a definition. DCDuring TALK 23:16, 8 December 2009 (UTC)
I have found evidence of the expression going back to 1917, where it is used without explanation or reference to anything specific. If I had to make a bet, I would be on a US origin and identify "John" as w:John Wilkes Booth. Citations:who shot John has the highlights of the evidence. The negative evidence is the absence of any similar indication of one particular "John". It could have no specific reference, of course, John just being a very common name.
See also the citations page for quotes of "like who shot John". DCDuring TALK 16:29, 3 April 2010 (UTC)

Here's an interesting one:

  • 1953, S. S. Field, The American drink book‎, page 65:
    The name had come to mean any aromatic essence of herbs by the time the first thirsty colonial poured a peg of Who-shot-John into his mint water.

Cheers! bd2412 T 03:23, 27 April 2010 (UTC)

Yup. I had noticed that when working on the entry, but was more motivated to work on what I did. That's also an interesting use of peg#Noun. DCDuring TALK 11:35, 27 April 2010 (UTC)
Indeed it is. I think it is almost a random noun insertion. bd2412 T 20:56, 28 April 2010 (UTC)
Apparently it really is a UK term. It is in multiple other dictionaries. DCDuring TALK 21:36, 28 April 2010 (UTC)

US usage: Virginia[edit]

From the 1940’s in rural Virginia, I have heard and used he term, “who shot John,” all of my life, usually in the general form, “That’s just a bunch of who shot John,” or, “Don’t give me all that who shot John.” The term’s definition on the Etymology page, “A long and involved explanation; a thing of which an explanation would be long and involved,” does not fully comport with any usage I heard growing up, which usage would more aptly be defined as “An answer or explanation so filled with copious, rambling details that it never addresses the actual issue.” I do not recall its ever being used in reference to a “thing” or object, though that may be only regional. As to etymology, I strongly suspect that the roots of this usage are in the probably apocryphal, but perhaps actual query, “Who shot John?” the response to which begged the question. If the expression has Southern origins, it is unlikely to have any derivation from who shot John Wilkes Booth, because that question would have been phrased, “Who shot Booth,” and, frankly, most Southerners of that era could not have cared less. —This comment was unsigned.

Appalachian use of Who-Shot-John[edit]

When I was growing up in the Appalachian foothills of Southern Ohio, there were lots of bootlegging joints in the dry townships. At those venues I heard many men refer to rotgut whiskey as "Who-Shot-John", ergo: "Take a good horn o' this Who-Shot-John."

Patrick W. Crabtree, McDermott, Ohio