Idioms for Idiots

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Idioms for Idiots is a podcast that breaks down idiomatic expressions and traces them back to their origin. Each episode is a snappy look into history and the silly way humans use the English language. The show is produced and hosted by Megan Caruana in San Francisco, CA.


Woman: Sally wouldn’t lift a finger. That’s water under the bridge. A picture is worth a thousand words. Bob has a chip on his shoulder. I picked up the tab.

Megan Caruana (MC): What you just heard were examples of idioms. What exactly are idioms, you may ask?

Woman: When there’s a group of words, a metaphorical expression, that have now sort of, frozen together; and only together, they have a particular meaning, that is an idiom.

MC: This is idioms for idiots. I’m sure many of you listeners will be familiar with our first idiom of focus:

[Man]: I’m calling shotgun!

[Two men at the same time]: Shotgun!

[Woman]: Shotgun! Haha I called it first I get shotgun!

[Man]: I am not sitting in the back seat. I called shotgun and I called shotgun fair and square.

[Man}: Shotgun no battle.

[Woman]: Shotgun: no battle, no contest!

[Man]: Shotgun…

MC: Riding shotgun is most commonly known today as earning the right to ride in the front passenger seat of someone’s car. But let’s take a step back.

[Man]: Well, Marshall, I’m looking for my shotgun guard. Is it here?

[Man]: Govern Sturgeon, en route to Houston, and murdered the driver, shotgun, and three passengers.

MC: “Riding shotgun” wasn’t always called “riding shotgun.” The passenger of a stagecoach wasn’t a passenger at all, but a shotgun messenger. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, a shotgun messenger was a private express messenger and guard, most typically on a stagecoach, but also on a train, in charge of overseeing a guarding a valuable, private shipment. The express messenger for stagecoaches typically road in a seat on top of the coach, on the left, next to the driver. In the old west of the 1880s, if a stagecoach had only a driver, and no messenger, this meant the coach carried no valuables, and was thus a less interesting target to bandits. So if the driver of a car doesn’t need anyone protecting his or her valuables, how do we decide who gets the front seat?

[Man]: The official shotgun rulebook. The word, shotgun, must be said or screamed clearly and loudly so all participants and the driver can hear. The car must be in sight to call shotgun. Rock, paper, scissors may be implemented as an alternative.

MC: I’m your host, Megan Caruana. Thank you for listening.