Backseat Driver (Origin)

by Craig Shrives

What Is the Origin of the Saying "Backseat Driver"?

The term "backseat driver" means a person who criticizes from the side lines.
Back Seat Driver (Origin)
This idiom refers to a person who offers unsolicited, unwanted advice to a vehicle driver from a back passenger seat.
  • Passenger: You're too close to that car in front. And, you're too close to that car behind!
  • Driver: Yeah, okay, backseat driver!
Nowadays, "backseat driver" is used more widely to refer to anyone who gives unwanted advice from a position of not contributing.

From a grammatical perspective, "backseat" is a compound adjective (a single adjective made up of more than one word). Therefore, the big question is whether to write it as "back seat driver," "backseat driver," or "back-seat driver." The basic rule is as follows:
  • Use the one-word version if it exists.
  • If it doesn't exist as one word, use the hyphenated version to make it clear your words are a single grammatical unit (i.e., one adjective).
Read more about hyphens in compound adjectives.

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