riding shotgun

Fri Apr 16 11:05:44 UTC 2004

        As Sam Clements previously noted, the earliest use of "riding shotgun" seems to be in the 1939 movie Stagecoach, a use found by C.K. Dexter Haven, an administrator at the Straight Dope Message Board.  Stagecoach was based on the 1937 short story Stage to Lordsburg, by Ernest Haycox.  I did a search for "shotgun" in that story, using Amazon's search function, and found only the following, from the first page of the story, for any version of "riding shotgun":  "The stage and its six horses waited in front of Weilner's store on the north side of Tonto's square.  Happy Stuart was on the box, the ribbons between his fingers and one foot teetering on the brake.  John Strang rode shotgun guard and an escort of ten cavalrymen waited behind the coach, half asleep in their saddles."

        This suggests that "riding shotgun," as opposed to "shotgun guard" and similar phrases, likely originated with the 1939 movie.  It remains to be seen how the phrase moved to refer to the front seat passenger of an automobile.  It is also possible, though it presently seems less likely, that the automobile usage predated 1939 and influenced the screenwriters' choice of words.

John Baker 

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