What’s interesting about idioms is the story behind them. Each story is different, as each person is different, as each culture is. The story behind the idiom reflects just as much about the phrase as it does about the culture that spawned it. American idioms come from many sources, but two popular ones come from entertainment, or warfare. Riding Shotgun is an interesting mix of both.
What Does Riding Shotgun Mean:
Shotgun has developed from an idea, into a game. As with any game in North America, it quickly became a competition. The game “Shotgun” quickly developed in a challenge between people riding in the same vehicle. The winner gets the prize of the front seat, and possibly control of the radio. There can be over 50 rules, but the most common include:
5 rules: How to Ride Shotgun
1) You must be outside to call shotgun
2) I love Mom: Mom always gets shotgun
3) Shotgun is only good for one ride
4) You must be in sight of the car
5) Once the hand is on the door, you cannot call shotgun
The Origin of Riding Shotgun
Two words, taken apart they have nothing to do with each other. A shotgun is a weapon used for hunting birds, or other animals. If you want to ride one, you won’t go anywhere quickly. If it was recently fired, you may burn some very important parts of your anatomy. Despite what Dr. Strangelove would have us believe, using weapons as transportation is not a good idea…
Or maybe the most important word was shotgun. Given the warlike nature of the American spirit, it wouldn’t be uncommon for a shotgun to be necessary. It’s been said that this phrase originated during the Western Expansion. That whenever a wagon, or group of wagons, were traveling together, one man would be driving, and another would keep an eye out for danger. Therefore “Riding Shotgun” was short for “Being in the second seat, keeping an eye out for danger”.
Riding shotgun means you’re sitting in the front seat, next to the driver. However, there is little evidence that it was coined during old west times. The first time we can verify the term was used was in an Old Story, “Stagecoach.” In 1939, George Bancroft said “… I’m going to Lordsburg with Buck, I’m gonna ride Shotgun.” There are a few earlier written accounts, but this production was what made the term mainstream.
What other idioms are you curious about?
Leave a comment below and we’ll look into it!