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There was the following sentence led by the headline, “Buckle up: As Mueller probe enters second year, Trump and allies go on war footing.” It follows:

“The investigation has already delivered indictments or guilty pleas involving 10 people and three companies. Many of President Trump’s aides and associates say they are confident the president will be exonerated. But they privately worries that the probe may yet ensnare more figures in Trump’s orbit.”

Cambridge Dictionary simply defines “buckle up” as; u.s. informal. to fasten the belt that keeps you in your sheet in a car or plane. u.k. = belt up.

Oxford Advanced Learners’ English Dictionary defines it as; 1. to fasten sth, or be fastened with a buckle. 2. (AmE) belt up at belt.

Freedictionary defines it as; (slang) prepare for what is about to happen, such as danger, excitement, trouble.

I wonder if it could be interpreted as "brace for a challenge / critical situation."

What does “buckle up” here exactly mean?

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    General reference. Farlex explains this. – Edwin Ashworth May 13 '18 at 23:59
  • @EdwinAshworth so which of the 4 meanings do we need in this specific example? Do we (the public) need to 'prepare for what is about to happen' in reference to the Mueller investigation? – JJJ May 14 '18 at 0:00
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    There's possibly an extra metaphor here - as well as the usual meaning of "belt up for a bumpy ride", I have an image of a mediaeval knight strapping on a suit of armour.... – Toby Speight May 14 '18 at 9:36
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    The fundamental problem with the headline is that it jumps from one metaphor (seat belt buckling) to another (war preparations) that has no intrinsic connection to the first. Native English speakers will immediately see that there is no continuity between the two metaphors, but nonnative English speakers may wonder whether there is a connection between the two that they aren't recognizing—as would be the case, for example, if the headline had raid "Buckler Up: As Mueller Probe Enters Second Year, Trump and Allies Go on War Footing" (a buckler is a small round medieval shield). – Sven Yargs May 14 '18 at 20:17
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    I watched a lot of television when I was very young, Yoichi Oishi, and U.S. TV stations ran that ad many, many times in 1964. That explains why I remembered the jingle word for word 54 years later, despite not having heard it for many decades. To find the video, I simply searched in YouTube for the phrase "Buckle Up for Safety", knowing that someone would surely have posted it. By the way, I just now asked my wife (who is my age) if she remembered a TV commercial about seatbelts from her childhood—and she immediately began singing "Buckle up for safety, buckle up!" The ad was ubiquitous. – Sven Yargs May 18 '18 at 5:20
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"Buckle up!" is an instruction based on a verb. "Put your seatbelt/safety belt on!" It refers to, and is a metaphor for, the seatbelt buckle in a vehicle.

It is often followed by "it's going to be a bumpy ride." A seatbelt in a vehicle must be worn for our safety. Similarly, we (and/or others) must prepare for difficult times ahead when we read such headlines.

By wearing our metaphorical seatbelt, we are reducing the risk of figurative injury which may be caused by what the headline is predicting or of what detrimental consequences it is warning us about.

It was said to the two children in the movie Back to the Future III, just before the train departed.

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    How I see it, the safety belt does not necessarily imply danger. After all, you have to put on your safety belt when driving (even if you're not planning on having an accident). So it might just mean: put on your belt because we're going for a drive (as opposed to just sticking around; not driving). Of course, the 'drive' is in this case a metaphor for the Mueller investigation, which may be 'bumpy' or fast-paced when it gets to the end (for example because multiple high-profile people may get indicted or just interviewed). – JJJ May 13 '18 at 23:56
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    @JJJ Driving is one of the most dangerous activities that people engage in on a regular basis, which is why you wear a seat belt while doing it. – Christoffer Hammarström May 14 '18 at 8:09
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    Fastening one's safety belt is merely a precautionary measure. It doesn't imply danger, it is a standard precaution always taken. For example, an airline asks you to fasten it before take-off, but doesn't ask you to keep it fastened throughout the flight. So as a metaphor it merely implies a perhaps bumpy ride, not an imminent disaster. – Ed999 May 14 '18 at 8:36
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    Even if it is precautionary, the phrase "Bucke up!" is oftentimes used for dramatic effect in movies, e.g. when a dangerous car chase is beginning. This signals the audience that there is probably danger ahead, as the characters are preparing themselves. This also somehow implies that it is okay to not wear a seatbelt in the first place, which it is--of course--not. – Ian May 14 '18 at 10:54
  • @JJJ if you were someone who didn't wear a seatbelt (not common these days, but once lots of people objected to wearing them) you might still buckle up if you were expecting a particularly dangerous and/or bumpy bit of driving. – Jon Hanna May 14 '18 at 13:15
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Americans of a certain age will recall that when seat belts became available as a common extra-cost option, but shortly before the government made them mandatory on new cars (around 1964), the U.S. Ad Council heavily promoted a public-service advertising campaign urging automobile drivers and passengers to buy and use seat belts. The name of the campaign was "Buckle Up for Safety," and the main TV advertisement featured a jingle of the same name that ended with the exhortation, "Buckle up!" I hadn't seen this ad in 50 years when I looked it up just now, but I still remembered parts of the jingle word for word. That ad, I think, is the source of "Buckle up!" as a catch-phrase.

Prior to the "Buckle Up for Safety" ad campaign, the more common seat belt expression/warning was simply "Fasten your seat belts"—typically issued as an instruction by stewardesses at the beginning of airline flights, and made famous by Bette Davis's line in All About Eve (1950), "Fasten your seat belts; it's going to be a bumpy night!" (The airline instruction sometimes cautioned about "a bumpy flight"—not "a bumpy night."


In answer to Yoichi Oishi's specific question, "What does 'Buckle up' here [in the context of the news headline 'Buckle up: As Mueller probe enters second year, Trump and allies go on war footing'] exactly mean?" I second Louise's sensible view that it means readers of the headline should prepare for a bumpy metaphorical ride as opponents of the independent Mueller investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. elections seek to discredit and ultimately halt that investigation. The ride in question is the anticipated (and actually ongoing) series of legal and political maneuvers by the Trump administration and its allies (on the one hand) and by supporters of the investigation (on the other), even as the Mueller team itself maintains strict public silence about its progress, punctuated by occasional bursts of indictments.

In my view, juxtaposing the metaphors of "buckling up" (fastening a seat belt) and "going on a war footing" (marshaling one's forces in preparation for military conflict) isn't especially effective. But that's what the headline writer did. At least the headine doesn't conclude with "Pass the Popcorn."

  • As I remember it, in that movie Bette Davis had rather more cause to worry about a possibly bumpy night, and rather less prospect of needing to worry about atmospheric turbulence! :) – Ed999 May 14 '18 at 8:41
  • This doesn't answer the question. It appears to be an exploration of the etymology of the phrase, rather than it's meaning in this particular context. – AndyT May 14 '18 at 11:27
  • I have added two paragraphs to my answer so that it squarely addresses the posted question, which my original answer (as noted by AndyT) did not. – Sven Yargs May 14 '18 at 17:28
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"Buckle up" (slang, as you note, for "prepare for a rough ride"), along with the comment about Trump going on a war footing, means, according to the headline writer, that there is going to be considerable conflict between the Mueller investigation of Trump and his political aides and the Trump White House.

"Going on a war footing" here is metaphorical, as is "buckle up". The possible outcome is not actual war, of course, but a Constitutional crisis.

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When "Buckle up" is used metaphorically in American English, the context you should usually be thinking of is that of an action movie. Don't be thinking of a mom telling their kids to "Buckle up for safety", think of a super spy saying the mild mannered journalist they just rescued: "You might want to buckle up", before pulling a J-turn into an alley to lose their pursuers.

The connotation here is: "Watch out, because things are going to get crazy and dangerous"

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