What's the origin of the phrase "to throw someone under the bus" or "so-and-so threw me under the bus?" (in the sense of betrayal)? It seems like a very specific phrase not to come from some specific incident.

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    Well, these answers are a real learning experience for me. I always assumed someone literally threw someone under a bus and his friend was all like wow, you really threw that guy under the bus.
    – user85526
    Jan 27, 2015 at 18:25

9 Answers 9


Wikipedia provides the origin:

Its first use was by General Manager Joseph M. Kelly, who said he was considering ending a network affiliation. "I'm thinking about putting The Source under the bus," Kelly said in early 1988. The phrase was picked up by station employees, and often used to describe political intrigue at the station,

Also used in this:

In Septuagenarian Stew (The Life of a Bum), published in 1990, the Charles Bukowski character Harry pushed his friend Monk in front of a bus, and then stole Monk's wallet while Monk lay unconscious and probably dying in the street. After taking the wallet, Harry went directly to a bar and, using Monk's money, bought himself two double whiskeys. Later, Harry went to the Groton Steak House and, again using Monk's money, bought two beers and two Porterhouse steaks with fries ("go easy on the grease").

Thus, as you said, it came from a specific incident. It wasn't coined that long ago either, 1988.

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    I find the third paragraph under "Origins" at your Wikipedia link much more plausible than what you blockquoted. Jun 21, 2011 at 1:37
  • Thank you sir, I missed that out in my first reading. Thanks for your help !
    – Thursagen
    Jun 21, 2011 at 3:20
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    No problem. While your edit might be more accurate, I'd be careful about making it sound definitive. You'll notice the paragraph you quoted from has no citations to back it up. Jun 21, 2011 at 3:28
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    Wikipedia is a busy-body chat site, not a reference.
    – Fattie
    Jun 21, 2011 at 7:41
  • StackExchange is a busy-body chat site, not a reference. Jan 15, 2021 at 9:53

I worked at a restaurant called Casa Bonita in Colorado in the mid-80s that was used by tour companies and it was not uncommon to see 10-20 or more busloads of tourists in a day. From time to time a late tour would call ahead and ask us to keep the restaurant open. Needless to say this did not make night shift employees very happy.

In the summer of either 1985 or 1986 a group of employees who regularly met for beers after work were discussing the practice and decided that keeping the restaurant open for late tours was just like throwing all of the employees under the bus. From that night forward, it was common to hear Casa Bonita employees talk about being “under the bus” or being “thrown under the bus”. Being “Thrown under the bus” had the similar meaning as it does now. Being “under the bus” meant to be behind and struggling to catch up.

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    Interesting response since I live in Boulder. (Just moved there this year.) I keep hearing about Casa Bonita -- heard the food was horrible but the experience worth having. Jan 1, 2012 at 1:38
  • This answer is not supported and is demonstrably wrong. I had to downvote.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Oct 5, 2021 at 20:19

In The North Middlesex Magazine for November 1879, in the section "Pickings by our own Gatherer", I find:

A poet sings "And I covered her up with the kiss I gave." He must have been a coachman and put her under the 'bus.

Note: a "kiss" can mean "a glancing blow"; a kiss from a bus is easily enough to kill.

I'm not going to claim that this instance was the forerunner of today's common usage... but I will say this: it didn't take a brain surgeon to coin this phrase. Buses are large and hard to stop, and quite a lot of people are killed by them every year; add to that the (apocryphal) legend of the Juggernaut, and you had the ingredients for a catchphrase. I'm not surprised that it caught on; I'm only surprised that it didn't catch on sooner.


The term is rather interesting, but its origin is somewhat shrouded in mystery:

The earliest solid example of “throw under the bus” found in print so far is from 1991, although a 1984 quote from rock star Cyndi Lauper where she uses the phrase “under the bus” (without “throw”) may or may not count as a sighting...

The exact origin of “thrown under the bus” is, unfortunately, a mystery. Slang expert Paul Dickson, quoted by William Safire in his New York Times magazine column, traces it to sports, specifically the standard announcement by managers trying to get the players to board the team bus: “Bus leaving. Be on it or under it.” The phrase does seem to be popular in sports circles, but few of the citations I have seen from sports publications carry the same overtones of casual, callous betrayal that one finds in non-sporting uses.

I personally believe the origin is not necessarily sports-related. I hear it in business usage mostly, to speak of sacrificing someone to an oncoming destructive force — to throw someone under that "bus" in an attempt to propitiate the malevolent power.

  • Juggernaut, anyone?
    – MT_Head
    Jun 21, 2011 at 9:42
  • I suspect that the meaning has evolved to suggest sacrificing someone to cover one's own posterior. I see the influence of "throwing someone under the Juggernaut" (as opposed to voluntarily diving under it out of religious zeal), from that longstanding Western misconception of the Juggernaut, and even more strongly the influence of "throwing someone to the wolves" in order to distract them while the thrower escapes. Of course, buses aren't sacrifice-inducing (like the Juggernaut) or predatory (like wolves), but those ideas may have influenced the use and meaning of this phrase anyway.
    – Sven Yargs
    Mar 5, 2013 at 20:38
  • This mainstream article adds a little more color to this answer. It mentions Lauper and Safire. newsweek.com/whos-blame-under-bus-83613
    – tbc0
    Jun 29, 2016 at 1:53

I think it probably comes from the ethical thought experiment known as the "Trolley Problem." See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Trolley_problem.

One way of phrasing the problem is you can push the large man onto the track to stop the trolley and save a crowd of people.

Just a guess.


I seriously doubt anyone can make a case for any specific incident.

The standard expression where I live is that someone might fall under a bus, meaning they could unexpectedly die or be maimed by some easily-imagined misfortune.

I'm not even familiar with OP's usage implying that the misfortune is a consequence of deliberate malevolence. It's easily understood in the context of the standard expression, but I certainly don't think it's used much outside some particular insider slang contexts.

Here is a 1974 example from a parliamentary debate in New Zealand, where I don't think the speaker was particularly implying that traffic-related fatalities were relevant as such. It's just what (some) people say.

  • There is not merely a semantic difference between falling under and being thrown under a bus, agency being the most obvious contrast. In fact, the primary difference is that "falling under a bus" refers to literally dying suddenly in unexpected circumstances such as being run over by a bus, whereas "being thrown under a bus" is entirely figurative and in no way is suggesting that actual murder is going to be committed. The NZ example is clearly the former; but we folk at the Antipodes also use the latter expression exactly in the sense referred to by the OP. Feb 27, 2019 at 2:14
  • I can easily find half-a-dozen written instances of the usage in Google Books between 2004 and 2010 (all in the context of US politicians or marketing executives), but not a single one before that. Although the expression is in widespread use across the globe today, it hadn't really made it to the UK back when I wrote this answer. My point is falling under a bus had been commonplace among the general population for many decades before the idea of being thrown under the bus made it out into the wider world. And I suggest the earlier use facilitated the later one. Feb 27, 2019 at 13:04
  • (I'm sure it also gained traction by association with long-established throw someone to the wolves. I'm just saying that wasn't the only relevant antecedent.) Feb 27, 2019 at 13:16

I am just guessing here but all big buses have luggage compartments underneath the bus floor so they don't take up space inside the bus. The phrase could then refer to being hustled "under the bus" along with luggage because the passenger is not important enough to be allowed space in the bus and all what it connotes.


The Wikipedia entry, cited in Thursagen's answer, has since been updated. In February 2017, it claimed that the phrase originated in the UK and was then adopted by sport journalists and political pundits.

The earliest known usage of this phrase was 21 June 1982, when Julian Critchley of The Times (London) wrote "President Galtieri had pushed her under the bus which the gossips had said was the only means of her removal."
Wikipedia, September 30, 2021

Meanwhile, Merriam-Webster also supports the British origin and further claims that the earliest recorded instance can be dated as far back as December 1980.

The reaction of the Right to the events of the last year have varied depending on where in the spectrum they stand. Some still pin their hopes on the “under the bus” theory which has Mr. Foot being forced by ill health—or just the pressures of the job—to give way to Mr. Healey before the next election.
— Elinor Goodman, The Financial Times (London), 10 Dec. 1980

This appears to contradict @SSmith's answer based on an unsupported anecdote. Further, the editors of M-W affirm [emphasis mine]

It seems quite possible that the expression throw/push/shove someone under the bus dates to Britain in the late 1970s or early 1980s, especially when considering that there was already a similar under a bus expression in use there.

Tony Benn, the greying, pipe-smoking enfant terrible of the Left, is Denis Healey’s arch-rival with the Labour Party. The two would be top contenders for the leadership if Prime Minister Jim Callaghan were, in the British phrase, to fall under a bus.
— M. B., Barron’s National Business and Financial Weekly (Boston, MA), 28 Aug. 1978

The same expression "fall under a bus" was picked up in FumbleFingers' answer posted in June 2011.

Thanks to The British National Newspaper Archive, I managed to unearth a tantalising snippet from the Aberdeen Evening Express, printed 30 April 1979, which says

…plot to oust him as Labour leader. H Mr Callaghan, who is 67, insisted that would serve a full five years he had no intention of falling, or being pushed, under a bus. And he set out to soothe the fears voters that the left steadily taking over the Labour…

Unfortunately, the full newspaper article is behind a paywall, which I can ill afford, so I am left puzzled as to what the "H" in H Mr. Callaghan could possibly be.

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As for Google, I failed to find earlier instances in any newspapers, British or American, that used the idiom (throw someone) "under the bus" between the years 1970 and 1980. The instances reported refer to either terrible road accidents involving victims pinned or trapped under a bus or to a few false positives such as “under the bus ness name”. Searching the newspaper archives for "under a bus” was equally unsuccessful, although there are a few instances of “thrown under a bus” the newspaper articles were referring to acts of attempted murder.


As far as I know, this saying goes back much farther. During the Vietnam war, it's said that Vietnamese women would throw newborns under American vehicles to collect $500.00 insurance money from the U.S. I can't confirm the accuracy of this, but as a veteran during the Vietnam era in the navy, I heard this more than once. Hence the saying, "Throw him/her under the bus" meaning to sacrifice someone to benefit or to better your own situation.

  • Can you provide a reference? I couldn't find any variant of this expression before about 1990 in Google NGrams, and it seems highly unlikely to have lain low for twenty years only to see a sudden surge in popularity; it does not feature prominently in any popular book or film set in the Vietnam era released around that time, either.
    – choster
    Jan 27, 2015 at 22:35

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