riding shotgun

Definition: To sit in the front passenger seat

Example: John wanted to ride shotgun as his elderly Aunts were sitting in the back and they smelled of wee.


It’s a term from the Wild West, isn’t it? Everybody knows that.

Well, yes and no.

There were indeed stagecoaches criss-crossing the American southwest during the nineteenth century. And sometimes, there were indeed shotgun toting men riding alongside the driver to protect whatever they were carrying. All true.

The problem is that the phrase doesn’t seem to have been used at all at the time. In all likelihood, it was a Hollywood invention used in the hundreds of Westerns pumped out by the studios, culminating in one simply called ‘Riding Shotgun’ in 1954 (starring Randolph Scott and a very young Charles Bronson).

The phrase can still be used in the sense of literally riding along as protection, either as a bodyguard, or as armed security in armoured vans. More commonly, it is used in the harmless sense of riding beside the driver on a car journey, often claimed on the way to the car with the cry of “I call shotgun!”

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