What Does It Mean to Be Thrown Under the Bus?

The phrase “thrown under the bus” has become a popular idiom in English over the past few decades. But what exactly does it mean when someone is thrown under the bus, and where does this colorful expression come from? Let’s break it down.

A Definition of Being Thrown Under the Bus

To “throw someone under the bus” essentially means to betray them or sacrifice them for personal gain. It refers to suddenly criticizing or blaming someone, often to avoid taking responsibility for something yourself.

Some key aspects of the meaning include

  • Abandoning or disavowing a previously positive relationship
  • Distancing yourself from someone or something now seen as “controversial”
  • Blaming others for failures or mistakes to protect your own interests
  • Sacrificing others for selfish reasons or your own advancement

The person “thrown under the bus” is usually in a position of vulnerability, making it easy to take advantage of them It’s a harsh metaphor implying the sacrifice of someone else for your own benefit.

Where Does the Expression Come From?

The origin of this phrase is not entirely clear, but most linguistic research suggests it likely emerged in British political rhetoric in the late 1970s or early 1980s.

One of the earliest known uses came in a 1982 article in The Times that referred to Argentina’s President Galtieri metaphorically “pushing” Margaret Thatcher “under the bus”. This conveyed a sense of intentionally making her vulnerable to removal from power.

The phrase then grew in popularity and took on the more specific meaning of betraying someone or shifting blame onto them. It spread from British to American English and became particularly ubiquitous in US political media coverage in the 2000s.

The 2008 US presidential election saw a surge in use of the phrase. It was used extensively to describe candidates distancing themselves from previous allies that were now deemed controversial.

Common Examples and Variations

Here are some examples of how “throwing someone under the bus” is commonly used:

  • “When the corruption scandal broke, the CEO threw his assistant under the bus by blaming everything on him.”

  • “Don’t throw me under the bus by telling the teacher I cheated too!”

  • “The celebrity tried to avoid controversy by throwing her agent under the bus and claiming he was responsible for the offensive remarks.”

  • “The governor threw his previous party affiliation under the bus when he switched to become an Independent.”

Some variations include “throw under the train”, “push under the bus”, or “toss under the bus” which have essentially the same meaning. The core metaphor, however, remains “under the bus”.

Why Is the Bus Seen as Negative?

What exactly makes being thrown “under the bus” such a powerful metaphor for betrayal?

For one, buses are large vehicles that would certainly cause major harm if they ran over a person. So there is a sense of being crushed or stamped out.

Buses also run along fixed routes, implying inevitable harm as if helpless to avoid what’s coming.

Finally, buses are a form of public transportation, so it may evoke a sense of betrayal and being sacrificed in front of an audience.

There’s no positive spin on being thrown under a bus. It vividly conjures up sudden betrayal and sacrifice for selfish motives.

Cultural Impact and Popularity

While the origins of “thrown under the bus” are political, it has become a mainstream English idiom used in many contexts.

It is frequently found in news media headlines about public figures abandoning associates amid controversy. But it is also commonly heard in workplaces, classrooms, and in interpersonal conflicts.

The mental imagery of throwing someone vulnerable into the path of an oncoming vehicle resonates powerfully. It captures the essence of betrayal and selfishness in a colorful, impactful phrase.

Few people use the expression literally – it’s not about actual vehicles or traffic accidents. But it is a revealing window into the cutthroat nature of business, politics, and sometimes interpersonal dynamics.

Being thrown under the proverbial bus has become one of the definitive metaphors for selfish betrayal in modern English slang.

A Summary of Key Points

  • “Throwing someone under the bus” refers to suddenly betraying, blaming, or sacrificing them to protect yourself
  • It likely originated in British political rhetoric in the late 1970s/early 1980s
  • The bus conjures up a sense of inevitable harm, like a betrayal you can’t avoid
  • It vividly captures selfishly sacrificing a vulnerable person for personal advancement
  • The phrase grew popular in US politics and is now widely used in slang and business
  • It expresses the ruthlessness of sacrificing associates when convenient or self-serving

So in essence, if you’re thrown under the bus by someone, don’t expect soft landing – you’re going to get run over!

what is thrown under the bus


What does it mean to throw someone under a bus?

People so thrown are typically in a vulnerable position. The phrase’s origin is uncertain, but it likely got its start in British politics, where the phrase “under a bus” was already in use as a metaphor for misfortune or a conveniently-timed accident. What does it mean to throw someone under the bus?

Where did ‘throw under the bus’ come from?

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

Is throwing someone under the bus a good thing?

After all, when throw is encountered in a phrase, it often is in such senses as throw a punch, throw (something) in a person’s face, or throw (one’s) hands up in disgust. Under often plays a negative role as well, appearing in such turns of phrase as under the weather. So no, to “throw someone under the bus” is not a nice thing to do.

Why does mark always throw under the bus?

throw under the bus Mark always looks for someone to blame and throw under the bus for his failings. the incident. John only wants the admiration and when things go wrong – he always finds for someone to throw under the bus. I am sure that my boss will throw me under the bus for the failed project.

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