Sitting Shotgun (Origin)

by Craig Shrives

What Is the Origin of the Saying "Sitting Shotgun"?

The term "sitting shotgun" or "riding shotgun" means to ride in the front passenger seat of a car.
Sitting Shotgun (Origin)
The idiom "sitting shotgun" or "riding shotgun" originates from the American Wild West around the start of the 19th century, when stagecoach travel was popular. The term derives from the armed guard who sat alongside the driver. Armed with a shotgun or a rifle, the guard's job was to protect any valuable cargo (usually kept in a strongbox) from being stolen by bandits. According to Wikipedia, the first known use of the phrase "riding shotgun" was in the 1905 novel "The Sunset Trail by Alfred Henry Lewis":
  • Wyatt and Morgan Earp were in the service of The Express Company. They went often as guards – "riding shotgun," it was called – when the stage bore unusual treasure.
Somewhat ironically, the use of an armed guard alongside the driver would signal to bandits that there was a strongbox onboard the stagecoach, thereby increasing not decreasing the chance of a robbery.

Nowadays, car passengers can claim the front passenger seat by calling "shotgun." For example:
  • Johnny: Shotgun!
  • Johnny: Hey, get in the back, Tony. I called shotgun.
  • Tony: No chance!
  • Driver: Get in the back, Tony. Johnny called shotgun.

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See Also

What are idioms? What is figurative language? A list of common grammar errors A list of easily confused words A list of sayings and proverbs

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