Some etymology stories might be the product of fiction, but sometimes, they are so good, you have to hope that they’re true. This is the case of the tale concerning why we call long johns, “long johns.”
Merriam Webster tells us that the term “long johns” has been used to describe this long underwear since 1941, but when you dig a little deeper, you can come across the same story again and again:
In the late 1800s, an Irish-American boxer named John Lawrence Sullivan rose to fame because not only was he unbeatable, not only did he win the last bare-knuckle world heavyweight title bout in the 75th round after recovering from vomiting in the 44th, not only did his trainer have to drag him away from bars the full duration of his training. but he was also recorded saying that, he could “lick anyone, anytime,” and would regularly jump into the ring or any other challenge in his long underwear tucked into his socks, ready to go. He did this so commonly, fans began calling the long underwear by his name.
Is this the real origin of the term “long johns”? Maybe. It’s the consistent reference though it’s not 100% confirmed. But whether it is or isn’t, can we all at least appreciate that there was a boxer so confident and so proud that this is truly how he stepped into the ring? Nightmares about stepping on stage in your underwear have nothing on this guy.
That’s something to keep you warm on a cold winter day.
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