| Car Life
5H0T6UN (shotgun) license plate on a red car.

You race your friends to the passenger seat. You shriek, “I call shotgun!”

The race is on, but then you pause. Where did the expression, “I call shotgun,” come from?

It turns out, we use a lot of car-related slang on a daily basis, sometimes without even noticing! Find out where some of these common automotive idioms come from and what they mean.

Where does “riding shotgun” come from?

Riding shotgun comes from the pre-car era of horse-drawn stagecoaches. What we consider a day trip today would have taken months to complete back then. The journey would’ve been dangerous, too.

In the old west, stagecoach robberies were so common that wagon owners and cross-country merchants hired armed guards to sit next to their drivers. These armed guards’ official job title was “Shotgun Messengers.”

With the invention of cars, Shotgun Messenger job openings declined, but the expression remained to become what we scream today: “I CALL SHOTGUN!”

(For real though, we call dibs on the passenger seat.)

Where does the phrase “cut to the chase” come from?

We say “cut to the chase” so often it’s hardly an idiom anymore! That’s how deeply ingrained the phrase is in our daily language.

In the early days of film, many movies ended in “high-speed” carriage or car chase scenes. These scenes became so commonplace that directors started using “cut to the chase” as a way of denoting a “jump to the end” in their scripts.

Since then, movies have gone from black and white to technicolor, and from silent to surround sound, yet “cut to the chase,” has stuck around as a way to prompt speakers to get to the point!

What does the expression “shifting gears” mean?

Although the precise origin of the phrase remains unclear, it’s worth noting that, unlike shifting gears in a car, “let’s shift gears” in conversation is meant to change the topic not the speed! Since only about 18% of U.S. drivers say they know how to drive a stick, the disconnect between the mechanical reality and the saying’s meaning is understandable.

Where does “cutting corners” come from?

Remember cutting corners on middle school assignments? Of course not. 😉 Neither do we.

According to Idioms.online, “cutting corners” has been in use since the late 1800s. Back then, it was used in reference to carriage drivers who would steer their horses onto the curb at street corners to shave off some traveling distance. They were able to save some time, but at the expense of safety. Similarly today, we say someone is “cutting corners” when they do something poorly for the sake of time or money.

That being said, it’s never a good idea to cut corners on car insurance. Additional coverage like comprehensive and collision can help you pay for unexpected damage from fender benders, falling tree branches, and other incidents.

Why do we say “hop on the bandwagon?”

According to Phrases.org, P.T. Barnum, the infamous showman and circus owner coined the phrase “bandwagon.” Allegedly, Barnum first used the word to refer to his circus band’s carriage. Quite creative, Mr. Barnum.

Barnum’s flashy bandwagon not only served the purpose of transporting the band, it was also one of his most effective forms of advertising.

The publicity was so effective that politicians soon followed suit, decorating their own carriages while campaigning. We guess you could say, they hopped on the bandwagon, themselves!

Why do we call some accidents “fender benders?”

You’re in bumper-to-bumper traffic and the person behind you gets distracted. You feel a light but noticeable tap on your car’s rear. The sound startles you. You realize you’ve been tapped into your first “fender bender.”

“Fender bender” is not an idiom per se, it’s just a catchy rhyme used to describe minor accidents like the one detailed above. The word “fender,” however, has had its own interesting evolution.

“Fender” comes from “defender,” which, according to Rolls Off the Tongue, was used to describe the fixtures that were mounted on boats and fireplaces to protect them from damage. Eventually, the word was shortened to “fender,” which has been in use since the 1960s as a way of referring to the protective metal over vehicle wheels.

Why do we call a roll of belly flab a “spare tire?”

If you’ve ever had a flat, you know your spare tire was the last thing you wanted to lose at the time. Alternatively, if you’ve ever had weight loss goals, “losing your spare tire” was probably near the top of the list.

According to Merriam Webster, the “spare tire” comparison came about due to the visual similarities between car donuts and donut-induced midriff fluff.

Need help with a spare tire? If it’s automotive in nature, make sure you have a reliable roadside assistance plan. If it’s the physical kind, you may be better off by paying a visit to WebMD or Livestrong.

What about “hit the road?”

We were just about ready to hit the road when we noticed we unwittingly used an idiom—again!

According to The Idioms, “hit the road” came about in reference to the sound of horses’ hooves hitting the ground as someone rode away. So, if “hit the road” evokes images of taking a sledgehammer to the pavement, then shift gears and imagine the sound of galloping horses, instead!

Now that you know where different car-related slang comes from, you’ll be armed with fun facts for every conversation. And, just in case a fender bender ever comes your way, don’t cut corners on car insurance. Call or visit your local Direct Auto before you hit the road, instead!