Join 3,555 readers in helping fund MetaFilter (Hide)

"Man, I need to find a johnny on the spot right now!" "What?"
October 26, 2012 2:55 PM   Subscribe

Is "Johnny-on-the-spot" a common nickname for a portable toilet throughout the US, or it it just a regionalism?

In St. Louis, by far the most common provider of portable toilets was called Johnny On The Spot, and in the area, the name was used for any portable toilet, perhaps as a genericized trademark. My wife and I are both originally from St. Louis, now living in the SF Bay Area, and we were recently talking about one such toilet, referring to it as a "Johnny-on-the-spot." Soon after, I realized that the term might be a regionalism. So, I'd figure I'd ask about it here lest I make a fool of myself in the future when referring to porta potties by a silly name.

Searching for the term on Google comes up with quite a few portable toilet companies across the country with the name "Johnny on the Spot" (examples 1, 2, 3), but looking it up on Urban Dictionary shows a lots of thumbs down for the toilet definition.

So, is this just a St. Louis thing, or is it more universal? Or is the term used in certain pockets in the US? Or is the term not even universal in St. Louis? It sure seemed that way when I lived there.
posted by zsazsa to Society & Culture (65 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
No I've never heard of that (in San Francisco or New York).
posted by 2bucksplus at 2:57 PM on October 26, 2012

Johnny On The Spot provides portapotties for Burning Man, so if they're not nation-wide they at least cover quite a lot of it.
posted by aubilenon at 2:58 PM on October 26, 2012

Upon more careful reading - I guess it's a different Johnny on the Spot.
posted by aubilenon at 2:59 PM on October 26, 2012

I've never heard Johnny on the Spot (grew up in New England, have lived in DC and now San Francisco).

I've heard "portajohn" most commonly, I think, and that's what I use as a generic term - no one's ever had trouble knowing what I mean.
posted by rtha at 2:59 PM on October 26, 2012

I'm from MN and I hadn't heard of Johnny on the Spot before today. I usually call them Port-a-Potties.
posted by Area Man at 3:00 PM on October 26, 2012 [6 favorites]

These are local regional companies. Here in the Pacific Northwest you'll see lots of Honey Buckets. There seem to be at least a couple of companies called Johnny On The Spot specializing in portable restrooms.

Porta-potty would be the generic term I've heard most, but I grew up in the Midwest.
posted by kindall at 3:01 PM on October 26, 2012

Pittsburgh and I usually hear them called Port-a-Potties or sometimes Job Johnies, never heard of Johnny on the Spot.
posted by octothorpe at 3:02 PM on October 26, 2012

San Francisco area native, lived briefly in New England, have never heard this term. Most people I know just call them "Port-a-Potties", though rtha's "portajohn" would be understood.
posted by brainmouse at 3:02 PM on October 26, 2012

Oh, port-a-potty! Yeah, that too, possibly even more commonly heard and used (by me) than portajohn.
posted by rtha at 3:04 PM on October 26, 2012

Never heard it before, grew up in CA, now live in TX. Always called them Porta-Potties

Admittedly since moving to TX I haven't been to a place where one would use a portable toilet any way.
posted by magnetsphere at 3:04 PM on October 26, 2012

Up here they're 'honey-buckets'. so...regional.
posted by OHenryPacey at 3:07 PM on October 26, 2012

I suspect it's just an obvious pun--a john that is johnny-on-the-spot (actively trying to be in the right place at the right time)--perfect for a portable toilet company.
posted by Monsieur Caution at 3:10 PM on October 26, 2012 [3 favorites]

Philly area, it's Port-a-potty.
posted by DoubleLune at 3:10 PM on October 26, 2012

I've heard it called Johnny on the spot (or just Johnny) here in Toronto and area. Port a potty is well known and I know several people that call them outhouses. Never heard hunky buckets but hunny trucks (pump out septic systems and portapotties) are well known.
posted by saucysault at 3:11 PM on October 26, 2012

Grew up in Jersey, live in Boston now, and I know Johnny-on-the-Spot
posted by teragram at 3:11 PM on October 26, 2012 [1 favorite]

Someone on IRC from Australia once told me they use the term "portaloo". I don't know how widespread that is.
posted by aubilenon at 3:13 PM on October 26, 2012

In VT its a portapotty or port o let
posted by pintapicasso at 3:14 PM on October 26, 2012

I'm originally from the midwest and I thought it was a common nickname, but my California-born-and-raised husband has never heard of it.
posted by erst at 3:16 PM on October 26, 2012

I just saw the brand for the first time last week in NC, but had never heard one by that nick-name until now. Port-a-potty/john is what I've always heard as well.
posted by greta simone at 3:20 PM on October 26, 2012

SF Bay area: Never heard Jonny on the spot. 95% of the time it's Port-a-potty, sometimes "little blue room" regardless of the actual color.
posted by gofargogo at 3:22 PM on October 26, 2012

San Francisco here. What brainmouse said.
posted by trip and a half at 3:22 PM on October 26, 2012

From Cincinnati and have lived in Boston for a few years now and I've never heard that term used in either place.
posted by LittleKnitting at 3:28 PM on October 26, 2012

DC area, haven't heard that name before although I like it. I've known a few similar regionalisms for these; porta-potty, portajohn are the most generic; Don's Johns is another one that I've heard used generically.
posted by LobsterMitten at 3:28 PM on October 26, 2012

I've heard of Johnny On The Spot as a company (I work in a field that rents them a lot), but never as an all-purpose term.

I've lived in NYC and Louisiana, and I mostly hear porta-potty, porta-let, and porta-john.
posted by Sara C. at 3:29 PM on October 26, 2012

Yeah...Lots of plumbing companies use puns in their names.
posted by hobo gitano de queretaro at 3:30 PM on October 26, 2012 [1 favorite]

From New England, port-a-potty.

I wouldn't want to adopt calling port-a-potties "johnnies-on-the-spot" either, because that just dilutes the older, more quaint meaning of the phrase:
"A ‘Johnny on the spot’ is a man or youth who may be relied upon to be at a certain stated place when wanted and on whose assured appearance confident expectation may be based. It is not sufficient that an alert and trustworthy individual, to be thought deserving of the name ‘Johnny on the spot,’ should restrict his beneficent activity to the matter of being at a certain place when needed. He must, in addition, render such service and attend to such business when there as the occasion may require, and such a ‘Johnny’ must be on the spot not merely to attend to the business of others, but also to look after his own. Hence an individual who is prompt and farseeing, alive to his own interests and keenly sensible of means for promoting his own advantage is a ‘Johnny on the spot.’"
posted by treehorn+bunny at 3:30 PM on October 26, 2012 [8 favorites]

San Diego, I've heard of Johnny-on-the-spot as a brand name that supplies what we normally call porta-potties or, less commonly, porta-johns, but not as a name for those products.
posted by LionIndex at 3:31 PM on October 26, 2012

I've only ever heard port-a-potty or port-a-john. Sounds like Johnny-on-the-spot is just a brand name that got common enough to be regionally genericized, like a Wisconsinite asking for a Tyme Machine
posted by ckape at 3:35 PM on October 26, 2012 [5 favorites]

Never heard Johnny on the Spot in Wisconsin. Porta-potty or portajohn.
posted by catatethebird at 3:37 PM on October 26, 2012

Philly area. Have definitely heard Johnny on the spot. Ports potty is more common here, but I'm not gonna pretend its the only name
posted by Patbon at 3:43 PM on October 26, 2012

I've not heard "Johnny on the spot", usually hear "portapotty" or "portajohn". One of the local providers goes by the name "The Throne Depot"
posted by rmd1023 at 3:53 PM on October 26, 2012

Common in Western New York, although I think a little out of date. I don't remember ever hearing it anywhere else, and haven't heard it in New England.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 4:03 PM on October 26, 2012

Like LobsterMitten, I've heard Don's John(s) used generically (which is funny since it's so clearly not generic), portapotty commonly, and portajohn would be understood. Never seen nor heard Johnny On The Spot. Northern Virginia/DC/Maryland area.
posted by anaelith at 4:13 PM on October 26, 2012

From TX, living in RI - never heard Johnny on the Spot. Nthing "portapotties or, less commonly, portajohns".
posted by jorlyfish at 4:14 PM on October 26, 2012

I grew up calling them "Johnny on the Job." Google shows that to be a local brand name in my hometown.

It also led me to a column listing a collection of local punny names for portable toilet companies:

Portable toiletry is only second after hair salons (i.e. Mane Street, Clip Joint, Hair Today, etc.) for warm and cute, albeit excruciating, pun names.
posted by Snerd at 4:15 PM on October 26, 2012 [2 favorites]

I've lived in South Carolina, North Carolina, Delaware, New York City, Washington State, and Oregon, and I have never once until this moment heard porta-potties called "johnny on the spot".
posted by rabbitrabbit at 4:26 PM on October 26, 2012

Virginia: portapotty.
posted by nangar at 4:27 PM on October 26, 2012

Well, looks like its usage is pretty limited, like I suspected. Though I did get an email from a lurker from Kansas City saying that both he and his wife, who is from Wichita, have always heard them called Johnnies-on-the-spot. It'd be interesting to hear from more people from Missouri or Kansas.

I'll stick to saying portapotty, then, which I have been using more these days anyway.
posted by zsazsa at 4:28 PM on October 26, 2012

Heard it used up here in Toronto, Canada a fair bit.
posted by backwards guitar at 4:42 PM on October 26, 2012

Western Canada, Johnny on the spot is an outhouse, not a portable toilet.
posted by Cuke at 4:43 PM on October 26, 2012

port a John in new England, port a pottie in Midwest. never heard of yours!
posted by katypickle at 4:51 PM on October 26, 2012

Kansas here. Lived in Lawrence, KS, Kansas City, MO., as well as Fort Smith, AR. Never heard them called Johnny on the Spot.
posted by ronofthedead at 5:13 PM on October 26, 2012

I grew up in St. Louis (in West County) and definitely called them Johnny on the Spots, although I think I'm probably more likely to call them portapotties.

It's funny that you asked this because I just saw a conversation like this on the facebook wall of a high school friend of mine (from St. Louis, obviously).
posted by McPuppington the Third at 5:44 PM on October 26, 2012

I've mostly heard porta-potty, though I was in Virgina once and saw one whose front door had a sign that said, "Eure." I assumed that meant "Eure peein'."
posted by bendy at 6:29 PM on October 26, 2012

In Virginia, I've always heard "port-a-potty." I always thought "johnny-on-the-spot" meant someone who was prompt.
posted by 4ster at 6:42 PM on October 26, 2012

Yeah, another St. Louisan with "Johnny on the Spot". ALthough my friend (from stl) who was in the Marine Corps in Hawaii refers to them as "Portashitters".
posted by notsnot at 6:51 PM on October 26, 2012

Regionalism. I'm a west-coaster and have never heard a porta-potty called that before.
posted by SLC Mom at 7:18 PM on October 26, 2012

SF Bay Area native, spent a number of years at Burning Man. In my experience, the thing itself is called a porta-potty; Johnny-on-the-Spot is one company that provides and services them.

(It's been more than 10 years since the last time I Rangered at/went to Burning Man, but I still remember that the Johnny-on-the-Spot guy's radio callsign was "Turd Burglar". It was always amusing to see the expressions on the BLM Rangers and Sheriff's faces the first time they heard somebody's radio crackle and emit Turd Burglar, this is Dispatch. Do you copy? Not quite the radio protocol they were used to…)
posted by Lexica at 7:19 PM on October 26, 2012

It'd be interesting to hear from more people from Missouri or Kansas.

My mom's from TinyTown in NW Missouri, we used to summer there. My dad's from LittleTown in Kansas.
I've still never heard it.
posted by SLC Mom at 7:21 PM on October 26, 2012

I'm familiar with the brand, and I've always thought the name was pretty clever, but yeah, the generic term I grew up with is "port-a-pot."
posted by nebulawindphone at 7:49 PM on October 26, 2012

No. (Iowa.)
posted by OnTheLastCastle at 9:17 PM on October 26, 2012

Johnny-on-the-spot is definitely used in rural southwestern Ontario, Canada.
posted by Edna Million at 10:12 PM on October 26, 2012

Yes (Kansas City also). Must be a branding thing? Weird.
posted by dismas at 10:14 PM on October 26, 2012

I've always heard Port-o-San.
posted by Obscure Reference at 11:56 PM on October 26, 2012

To me, the phrase is immortalized by the Ween song with the same name.

Nobody calls it that in North Carolina.
posted by oceanjesse at 7:51 AM on October 27, 2012

It looks like the Federal Trademark on that name may have expired.
posted by halfbuckaroo at 9:02 AM on October 27, 2012

Wow, I'm from STL and never realized that was a regionalism. We call them portapotties as well as Johnny on the Spots.
posted by saul wright at 9:12 AM on October 27, 2012

Grew up hearing porta potty or porta john. I lived in St. Louis and never heard Johnny on the spot, although I can't remember how many situations I would have been in where I would be talking about them.

On set they're called honeywagons.
posted by thebrokenmuse at 11:32 AM on October 27, 2012

From MN too, and no haven't heard that. Only have heard port-a-potty, or "Biffies" (due to a local portable toilet company called Biff's).
posted by deinemutti at 12:31 PM on October 27, 2012

Another mention for clever puns. Here the primary supplier is "Stenberg's Sitters,"
posted by yclipse at 1:46 PM on October 27, 2012

I've only heard the phrase in Saving Privte Ryan, where it's used to mean "person who is right there when needed".
posted by w0mbat at 2:34 PM on October 27, 2012

It's a regionalism. I've lived in southern California, Texas, New York, Illinois, and West Virginia and never heard it. Port-a-potty has been the term everywhere I've lived. My favorite company name was an Illinois business named Midwest Pottyhouse.
posted by MsMolly at 6:17 PM on October 27, 2012

yclipse: "Another mention for clever puns. Here the primary supplier is "Stenberg's Sitters,""

In southwestern PA, they're known as "Scotty Potties".
An internet search shows that this is not unique to southwestern PA, turning up separate companies with the same results in Michigan and New York.
posted by namewithoutwords at 6:59 AM on October 28, 2012

(Born and raised in MO, lived in the Lou a few years)
I've known Johnny-on-the-spot as a brand name, but not sure I've ever heard anyone call them that, even if they're referring to units from that particular supplier. Always heard and said portapotty.
posted by attercoppe at 6:02 AM on October 29, 2012

In suburban Minneapolis I grew up calling them 'Biffies' after the local portapotty company Biffs, but portapotty was also understood. The blue biffies in the parks were prime arson training grounds for neighborhood hoodlums.
posted by Maarika at 4:54 PM on October 29, 2012

« Older Let's say you have a miniature...   |  I'm looking for any data that ... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.