Riding Shotgun – Meaning, Origin and Usage

Is your friend sitting next to you in the passenger seat of your car? If so, you could say they are “riding shotgun” on the road trip. This post unpacks the meaning and origin of this expression.

Meaning

The expression “riding shotgun” means that you’re riding in the passenger seat of a vehicle alongside the driver. Armed guards would “ride shotgun” with the driver back in the day to protect them from hijackers.

However, the use of the phrase got out into the public domain through movies and music and absorbed into mainstream culture. Today, many people will cry out “shotgun” when trying to reserve the front seat in their friend’s car.

Example Usage

“I remember that time I was riding shotgun with Mick driving. The guy was so drunk he took us off the road, and we almost died in that accident.”

“we’re taking that trip to Florida tomorrow, and I’m riding shotgun; I don’t care what any of your guys say.”

“Joey’s going to drive us to Oregon, and I’m going to be riding shotgun the whole way; you guys get the backseat.”

“I saw that girl riding shotgun with that criminal in his SUV. It’s obvious they’re in on the scam together.”

“If you don’t calm down, I’m revoking your privileges for riding shotgun and relegating you to the backseat.”

Origin

The saying “riding shotgun” originates from the US stagecoaches appearing in Hollywood film productions about the “Wild West.” The classic film “Stagecoach,” premiering in 1939, starring George Bancroft as Marshal Curly Wilcox, gets the credit for coining the expression.

In the film, Wilcox rides “shotgun” next to the stagecoach driver to prevent bandits and Apache from commandeering the stagecoach and looting it. Wilcox uses the expression in the film as the following.

“You boys take care of the office for a couple of days. I’m going to Lordsburg with Buck. I’m gonna ride shotgun.”

The earliest use of “riding shotgun” in print comes from the Utah newspaper “The Ogden Examiner” in May 1919. The newspaper published an article titled, “Ross Will Again Ride Shotgun on Old Stage Coach.” The expression appears in the article as follows.

“Alex Toponce was in the early days the owner of a stage line. He will probably drive the old fashioned vehicle, while A. Y. Ross, famous in railroad circles as a fearless express messenger and who on several occasions battled with bandits on the plains, will probably ride “shotgun” as he did in the past.”

However, many language experts believe that the expression originates from airline employees and US Marshalls “riding shotgun” on civilian or military flights.

Phrases Similar to Riding Shotgun

  • Upfront.
  • Co-pilot.
  • Co-driver.

Phrases Opposite to Riding Shotgun

  • Backseat driver.
  • Backseat.

What is the Correct Saying?

  • Riding shotgun.

Ways People May Say Riding Shotgun Incorrectly

Using the phrase to describe riding “pillion” on a motorbike would be the incorrect use of the expression. Typically, when people call out “shotgun” to book the front seat, they won’t call out “riding shotgun.” The phrase has nothing to do with shotguns or carrying shotguns in cars, which is illegal in many states.

Acceptable Ways to Phrase Riding Shotgun

You can use the phrase “riding shotgun” when you’re talking about riding in the front passenger seat of a car or when you’re in a vehicle that has a front passenger seat, like a small airplane. If you’re talking about the past or future events of “riding shotgun,” you’re talking about how you were riding in the front passenger seat of the vehicle. However, if you’re looking to book the front seat for an upcoming car trip, you would call out “shotgun” to your friends, without the “riding” in front of the word.

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