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A man whose identity is unknown or being protected, as in legal proceedings. The victim is a John Doe—the paramedics didn't find any identification on him. The case was brought by a John Doe, so we don't know the true identity of the man suing us.
Farlex Dictionary of Idioms. © 2015 Farlex, Inc, all rights reserved.
1. Also, John Q. Public; Joe Blow; Joe Doakes; Joe Zilch. An average undistinguished man; also, the average citizen. For example, This television show is just right for a John Doe, or It's up to John Q. Public to go to the polls and vote. Originally used from the 13th century on legal documents as an alias to protect a witness, John Doe acquired the sense of "ordinary person" in the 1800s. The variants date from the 1900s. Also see Joe six-pack.
2. Also, Jane Doe. An unknown individual, as in The police found a John Doe lying on the street last night, or The judge issued a warrant for the arrest of the perpetrators, Jane Doe no. 1 and Jane Doe no. 2 . [Second half of 1900s]
The American Heritage® Dictionary of Idioms by Christine Ammer. Copyright © 2003, 1997 by The Christine Ammer 1992 Trust. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.
John Doeand Jane Doe (ˈdʒɑn ˈdo)
n. a name used for a person whose real name is unknown. The tag on the corpse said Jane Doe, since no one had identified her. John Doe was the name at the bottom of the check.
McGraw-Hill's Dictionary of American Slang and Colloquial Expressions Copyright © 2006 by The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc. All rights reserved.
The average person. This appellation actually dates from the thirteenth century, when it was used in legal documents to disguise the identity of witnesses; the tenant plaintiff was called John Doe and the landlord defendant Richard Roe. In the nineteenth century the name acquired the present meaning of ordinary person. A book, The O’Hara Family (1825), included “Tales, Containing . . . John Doe,” and almost a century later a movie starring Gary Cooper was entitled Meet John Doe (1941). Similar appellations include Joe Blow, first recorded in 1867; Joe Doakes, from the 1920s; and John Q. Public, coined by the writer William Allen White in 1937. John Doe has outlived them all.
The Dictionary of Clichés by Christine Ammer Copyright © 2013 by Christine Ammer