Sadly, It Is Not Johnny-Cum-Lately

Johnny-Cum-LatelyIt’s amazing how the internet can allow you to seem a lot more knowledgeable than you are. For example, I was thinking of the phrase “Johnny-come-lately.” But I thought that the middle word was “cum” and not “come.” It is, after all, a weird construction. And I was used to phrases of this form that used “cum”: something-cum-something. So so why not Johnny-cum-lately? I decided to look up the word “cum.” And then I released that if I entered that word into Google, I was not going to get the information that I was looking for.

It reminds me of a time years ago that I was working on an underground magazine called Orange Toast. And I had this idea for a comic called, “Alf: Prostitute for Peace.” And we all thought it would be extra funny if I drew it. Then, the mastermind of the whole thing, Mark Neville, would do the pen work. So it ended up looking kind of professional, but with my total lack of perspective and whatnot. But I remember that Mark was unhappy that I used the word “come” for what he thought should be “cum.” Mark was pedantic in that way.

The truth is, I didn’t really know. Having an orgasm seems to me rather like “coming.” And the use of “cum” in the porn industry strikes me even today as an affectation. Regardless, I always knew that “cum” was a real Latin word, so I entered “cum Latin” and I got the answer that I was looking for. In Latin, “cum” means “with.” Although it also means “together,” which I find amusing. It gives a whole new meaning to the idea of simultaneous orgasms. But when the word is used in everyday English, it is with the former meaning — or perhaps “along with.”

Grammarist offers a good example of the use of the word, “Jimmy is a hunter-cum-animal-activist.” And in that example, you can see how easy it is to get confused. It means that Jimmy is a hunter and an animal activist — a somewhat ironic, or at least unusual, combination. But if you read the sentence out of context, it would be more natural to read “cum” as “become” as in, “Jimmy is a hunter turned animal activist.” So you can see why I might have thought the original phrase was “Johnny-cum-lately.” And I think the case can be made.

For example, when “cum” is used as a conjunction it can mean “since” or “while” or “although.” The last of those works rather well. It isn’t that I’m trying to justify my ignorance. It’s just that “Johnny-come-lately” is so strange a way to describe a newcomer. That’s not to say that it isn’t useful, because none of the definitions I’ve seen get at the critical thing about the phrase: it is a pejorative. The implication is always that someone has joined a group or movement only after it became popular and most likely only because as well.

Regardless, I wish it were “Johnny-cum-lately.” It just feels right. The right spelling of it doesn’t make distinctly more sense.

3 replies on “Sadly, It Is Not Johnny-Cum-Lately”

  1. Elizabeth says:

    While I knew you probably knew what the word cum would result in when you looked it up, I still laughed at the image of you staring in horror at your computer for what showed up.

  2. xhao says:

    I thought the same thing and a goodgle search led me here. Good info, thanks.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *