Riding Shotgun

Twists & Turns of Phrase

If you’re riding shotgun these days, you’re probably in the front passenger seat of your buddy’s car.

Origins: But most of the lore agrees that this term dates back to the Wild West and refers to the person who would sit next to the driver of a stage coach, protecting whatever cargo they were carrying with a shotgun. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, though, the first recorded instance of this turn of phrase dates to 1913 when Alfred Henry Lewis wrote “If thar’s money aboard, an’ the express outfit wants it defended, they slams on some sport to ride shotgun that trip.”

Lewis, who was a lawyer and journalist, traveled through the American West, writing and publishing stories about the people and places he saw there in the early 20th century. And although 1913 is the earliest recorded use of this phrase, it wasn’t at all uncommon in the days before mass communications for vernacular like this to rattle around for quite a while before it could creep into the scriptures of journalism and fiction. So, who knows, the lore about this phrase cropping up in the heyday of the Wild West might just be true.

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