Wednesday, September 21, 2022

Episode 166: Under the Bus Show Notes

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Bunny Trails: A Word History Podcast

Episode 166: Under the Bus

Record Date: Sep 19, 2022

Air Date: Sep 21, 2022



Welcome to Bunny Trails, a whimsical adventure of idioms and other turns of phrase. 

I’m Dan Pugh


And I’m Shauna Harrison

Each week we take an idiom or other turn of phrase and try to tell the story from its entry into the English language, to how it’s used today.

Opening Hook

Have you ever gotten into trouble or been questioned about a problem or concern that maybe you weren’t really responsible for or perhaps you were just one of a few involved. And then you found out later that someone else had implied - or even outright stated - that you were responsible? At work, I’ve heard people complain about this issue and follow that up by saying that the other person Threw Me Under the Bus


Essentially, throwing someone under the bus is a way to advance oneself or avoid trouble at the cost or harm of another person… that second person being the one under the bus. 

Oxford English Dictionary gives the definition,


colloquial (originally U.S.). to throw (a person) under the bus and variants: to abandon or betray (a person, esp. a colleague or friend) in order to protect or advance one's own interests; to make a scapegoat of.

End Quote  

It is difficult to pin down the first usage of this phrase, despite it showing up relatively recently in our lexicon. Despite Oxford English Dictionary claiming it was originally used in the US, it seems the earliest uses in print are from across the pond. 

The first instance of the phrase - or a very similar phrase - appearing in print was a quote from Hugh MacPherson, published in The Spectator out of London, 23 January, 1971.


There is an amusing little parlour game much favoured by politicians. It is called “Let’s kill the Leader,” and, when played by Labour loyalists, it begins “Supposing Harold Wilson were to go under a bus...”

End Quote 

This isn’t the exact quote, but it is rather close and seems to imply the same thing. 

The next instance of the phrase appearing in print that is often labeled as the first is from The Financial Times out of London 10 December 1980

The phrase appears in a statement by Elinor Goodman, 


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.

End Quote 

This usage is in line with the concept of using another for advancement. 

It was also seen in print in The Times out of London 21 June, 1982


Mrs Thatcher..was in deep trouble and the lobbies hummed with the prospect of her departure. President Galtieri had pushed her under the bus which the gossips had said was the only means of her removal.

End Quote  

After I had done a good bit of research, I found a short piece that aired on NPR’s All Things Considered November 11, 2019 titled, The Origins Of 'Throw Him (Or Her) Under The Bus'

Ammon Shea, an editor at Merriam-Webster, was a guest expert for this segment who also speaks on the topic along with co-hosts Ari Shapiro and Audie Cornish. They did reference the occurrences of the phrase from 1980 and 1982 that we just discussed… which made me feel pretty good about my research. Following those references, Shapiro states, 


After that, the phrase throw them under the bus crossed to America, where it found a home in sports, business and, most notably, in politics. In 2008, a linguist noted that under the bus appeared in more than 400 stories during that year's presidential campaign.

End Quote

And Shapiro ends the segment with this final bit of advice, 


Look both ways before crossing the street, and look behind you, too.

End Quote 

We will share the link so you can listen to the full segment. 

In the 1992 book Time Out: Restoring Your Passion for Life, Love and Work by Philip E. Johnson, the phrase was used in discussing the world of upper-level business folk. 


A multinational vice - president believed his boss when he was told to take risks and be assured he would not be thrown under the bus if he failed . Well , he took the message to heart and took a significant risk for his company .

End Quote 

I didn’t have access beyond this page, so you’ll have to check out the book to discover how things worked out for the gentleman. It’s a nice cliffhanger, though. In this case, the concern is about blame and responsibility. The gentleman takes a risk because he trusts that he will not be sacrificed or be made the scapegoat if things do not go well. 

From the February 2000 edition of the magazine, Yachting, we find an article intended to help a newbie purchase a pre-owned boat without getting scammed. The piece, Telltales, by Jay Coyle begins,


End Quote 

In this article, the phrase is being used specifically to indicate that the buyer will be the one to pay the cost or receive the negative consequences for the seller’s benefit. This is not a shifting of blame but rather a direct use of another person as a social or financial step up. 

Under the heading SHE'S MINT: A novice's quide to the mysterious language of the marine salesman, the piece goes on to list various terms and phrases used by yacht-sellers at that time and what they “really” mean such as,  


A unique opportunity! 

which actually means 

The boat looks funny. 

End Quote

This article, from the artwork to the ridiculously wonderful number of idiomatic phrases, was fairly entertaining. 

The phrase Thrown Under the Bus is relatively new, however, it began being used regularly at least 40 years ago. I decided the halfway point of 20 years and the switch to the next century made for a logical spot to transition from historical to modern usage. And we’ll get to those modern examples, right after we take a moment to say thank you to our sponsors. 

A Quick Thank You


This episode is sponsored by our amazing Patrons on Patreon.

You can help support this educational artform and get awesome perks along the way! Tiers start at $3 a month, which get you our polls and community-only discussions, early access to the podcast, and the behind the scenes video for each episode so you can watch along as we make the show. 

At $10 you’ll also get original digital artwork from Shauna once a month featuring exclusive art about an idiom or other turn of phrase. At $15, you’ll also get personal on-air recognition like Pat Rowe does every episode. And of course huge thanks goes to the top spot among our Patrons, our Dean of Learning, Mary Halsig-Lopez. Thank you so much to Mary and all of our patrons. 

If you want to help create Bunny Trails week after week, whatever your budget, we are bunnytrailspod on Patreon. 


Modern Uses

As was mentioned before our break, this phrase is all over social media. We’ll get to a few of those, but first - three books that all seem sort of life-lessony but in, well, different ways. And two songs which also are quite different from one another. 

The book Throw Me Under the Bus...Please by Jeffrey A. Miller was published in 2009. The summary reads, 


English literature has been deluged by memoirs, commentaries and travel logs depicting the fascinating adventures of hearty souls and brilliant intellectuals. In contrast, "Throw Me Under the Bus...Please" is a cynical yet humorous account of a bus tour through Mexico in the company of my doting wife, two children and demanding parents. The book is neither a traditional event-oriented memoir or detail-laden synopsis of a foreign land. Rather, it reflects my sardonic but insightful reflections as I become an unwitting captive aboard a meticulously prompt tour bus meandering through the architectural wonders of pre-Colombian Mexico. I am a quirky "everyman," guided by a thoughtful wife, humbled by my rapidly maturing pre-teen children and plagued by my cajoling parents. Although rife with facts and tales concerning Meso-American culture and architecture, the details serve primarily as a backdrop for my inner stream of sarcastic musings. Think Virginia Woolf meets Bob Hope, on the road without Bing Crosby for support.

End Quote 

As long as we are recording this podcast, I’ll never get through my to-be-read list because I feel like I add a new book or four every week! 

Published in 2013 is the book by Teresa Zerilli-Edelglass titled, Thrown Under the Bus: The Rise and Fall of an American Worker

The publisher shares,


Thrown Under The Bus is a one-of-a-kind saga about a vivacious young woman of humble beginnings in pursuit of the American Dream who is forced into an unimaginable legal quandary by a mean-spirited governmental employer hell bent on revenge.

End Quote 

This book is likely not everyone’s cup of tea - booksellers have listed the subject of the book to include Bullying, Discrimination in employment, Harassment, and Intimidation. This is probably a fairly intense read. 


The book Throwing Moses Under the Bus: A High School English Teacher Looks at the Ten Commandments was published in 2019; author John Cabascango. The publisher’s overview shares, 


Just thinking about terms like morals, law, and commandments seems dull, maybe even mean-spirited. Still, a quick look at social media, the endless news cycle, and magazines in the grocery checkout line show that we love to hear about failure, recovery, and who has crossed the latest moral boundary. At the same time, the argument over whose boundaries matter or whether they matter doesn't ever end. In fact, all these stories and concerns start somewhere in high school and keep going. Who can tell me what to do? Why do I have to do things this way? I can't wait to be free from all these rules. In Throwing Moses Under the Bus, teacher/author John Cabascango examines the ancient rules and stories that show us why these stone-tablet rules still matter in a digital age. Using examples from twenty-one years of teaching, novels, movies, and the American high school hallway, you are invited to see why boundaries matter to people who want to live freely.

End Quote 

The anthropology nerd in me finds this kind of cultural evaluation interesting. 

Next, we have our two songs. 

Throw ’Em Under the Bus the song by rapper N.O.R.E. was released in 2007. Due to reasons, I can only share the lyrics to the chorus, which goes as follows, 


Throw 'em under the bus!

Throw 'em, throw 'em under the bus

Throw 'em, throw 'em, throw 'em under the bus

End Quote 

Those lines repeat three times to make up the chorus of the song. 

The song Throw Me Under The Bus by the group iReedMan, also known as iReedMan’s Retro-Revival Saxophone Mouthpieces, was released in 2012

Here are some of those lyrics,


Ya know these days it seems like more and more people are just out for themselves I gotta tell ya

Maybe cuz the outlook for the future is so uncertain

People can turn on you and act like they never even knew you

Just throw you right under the bus

End Quote 

This is a swingin’ jazzy tune. It’s got good movement.

And here is a little bit about the main sax player in the group, iReedMan. This is from his Artist Bio on ReverbNation,


Joel Peskin (aka; iReedMan) is probably the most famous sax player you might not have heard of. He has toured with Streisand and The Beach Boys with his Giant Sax Solo on Kokomo, played in the house bands of American Idol & Dancing with the Stars for 8 years, it’s his sax on the Original themes of Entertainment Tonight and literally hundreds of scores of feature films, TV movies and commercial jingles, and hit Records.

Joel is a raconteur and hails from back-in-the-day Brooklyn. He’s full of prose and vinegar and his stories are as energetic and captivating as his music. He’ll do both for you.

End Quote 

I had no clue and I love the saxophone. Learn something new everyday! 

Now for our wonderful world of social media with non-stop waves of social and political commentary, interspersed with personal drama and pretty much everything a human can experience in a day. And there are quite a few that are focused on arguments, or relationship woes. But there are plenty of posts that use the phrase in a light-hearted manner.

HaveaMatangi posted a video on Tiktok in July 2021 in which is stated that he was 


Pretending I’m on live and lying to see what my daughter says. 

End quote

He begins the video by discussing his workout routine on the weekends which he claims includes a run that lasts 2-3 hours first thing in the morning. At this point, his daughter interrupts to state that he does not run in the mornings and she knows because she always wakes up early and sneaks upstairs and he’s always still in bed… 

He captioned the video 


Wow. Ok throw me under the bus

End Quote

Maybe she’s just keeping it real. 

On Twitter, user Not_Morata shared his insights regarding a football team. 


End Quote 

I’m not sure exactly what is going on there, but it sounds like content for a documentary. 

Wrap Up

This phrase has really not been around long, but it has been well-used. It’s a pretty dark thing to say in reality and I certainly wouldn’t make light of anyone actually being in the situation. But it is one of those phrases that is employed to express the emotional pain a person has experienced by using an extreme idea. I haven’t decided if I like this one or not. But it is typically effective at expressing exactly what a person means when they put it to use. I’ll try to avoid the phrase. And as Shapiro advised us, I plan to look both ways when I cross the street… and also behind me. 


That’s all we have time for today. If you have any thoughts on the show, or pop culture references we should have included, reach out to us on social media where we are @bunnytrailspod, or comment on our website


Poll time! 

In a recent poll, we asked Patrons, 

“When reading, do you prefer printed, digital, or audio books?”

There was an even split between printed books and audio books, together receiving 85% of the votes. Getting the final 15% of the votes was Digital books. 

Our Patron Jan prefers audio when he’s driving or on a plane, but also likes digital on his Kindle because there are so many free and public domain titles available. 

I tend to agree with Jan, I also prefer audio books and printed books. I struggle with digital books. And since I'm spoiled with having access to a great public library for printed copies and access to Libby through my library for audio copies, I haven't tried digital books in years.

Shauna, what about you?


It's the feel, smell, experience for me with printed books. Or I'm studying and I retain the info best when I see it on paper - better yet if it's seen and heard.

Digital just doesn't do it for me. If I'm going to have to use my hands, give me that physical book that holds a single work.

But I do so love audiobooks! If I'm cleaning or exercising or crafting or whatever... give me a good audiobook.

All that being said, my entire 14 hours of schoolwork this semester is in digital book form. So it goes. 


Ha! Sometimes you gotta make do with what you got. And dear listener, if you want to take part in our silly polls, head over to to see what we have this week!



Thanks for joining us. We’ll talk to you again next week. Until then remember, 


Words belong to their users. 

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