The expression "riding shotgun" is derived from "shotgun messenger", a colloquial term for "express messenger", in the days of stagecoach travel the person in the position next to the driver. However, apparently the phrase "riding shotgun" was not coined until 1919. It was later used in print and especially film depiction of stagecoaches and wagons in the Old West in danger of being robbed or attacked by bandits. A special armed employee of the express service using the stage for transportation of bullion or cash would sit beside the driver, carrying a short shotgun (or alternatively a rifle), to provide an armed response in case of threat to the cargo, which was usually a strongbox. Absence of an armed person in that position often signaled that the stage was not carrying a strongbox, but only passengers.
More recently, the term has been applied to a game, typically played by groups of friends to determine who rides beside the driver in a car. Typically, this involves claiming the right to ride shotgun by being the first person to call out "shotgun". While there exist myriad additional rules for the game, such as a requirement that the vehicle be in sight, nearly all players agree that the game may only begin on the way to the car. In addition, a number of humorous rules for calling shotgun has been developed by organizations and individuals (for example, the "survival of the fittest rule").
The phrase has been used to mean giving actual or figurative support or aid to someone in a situation or project, i.e. to "watch their back".
- Martin, Gary. "Riding shotgun". Retrieved 19 April 2013.
- "Riding shotgun". phrases.org.uk. Retrieved 1 May 2010.
- "Shotgun Rules". bored.com. Retrieved 1 May 2010.
- Tom Dalzell (25 July 2008). The Routledge Dictionary of Modern American Slang and Unconventional English. Routledge. p. 877. ISBN 1-134-19478-1.
- "Define Shotgun at Dictionary.com". dictionary.reference.com. Dictionary.com. Retrieved 11 February 2013.
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