Column Chronicles
Analyzing the tossing-someone-under-the-bus phrase with logic
Frank Cotolo
January 17, 2019
In recent years the act of betrayal has been given a new metaphor. People refer to being betrayed as being "thrown under the bus." It is unknown where the phrase originated but it caught on faster than flies collect on a dirty window screen.
Surely you have heard it and possibly you have used it to describe how someone close turned on you. But have you ever thought that it is a gross misrepresentation of the act it describes?
To understand why it is a bad metaphor, think of its literal values. First off, what kind of bus is imagined? Is it a city bus, a mass transit vehicle that picks up anyone for a fare? If it is a city bus, then how could someone who lives in a town or village use the phrase with any confidence?
Perhaps people use a different vehicle when they use the phrase in different regions or time zones. Maybe in the Orient someone gets thrown under the rickshaw. Maybe in Canada you throw someone under the moose.
And to be more literal about it, we ask about the throwing of the person. You could not actually throw someone under a bus, rickshaw or moose or whatever the vehicle. Who throws people?
You would have to roll the person underneath the bus. What if the bus were moving? What kind of expert talent would it take to roll a human being under a bus that is passing you by? Distinct mathematics need be known to roll the person between the moving tires. After all, the phrase isn't about throwing a person under the tires of a moving bus. If you wanted to kill the person you would just put them in front of a moving bus, right? Or just shoot them in the head. Why wait for a bus and do it in public?
In another aspect, what about betraying someone has anything to do with a violent action so specific? It's not at all the best phrase for such an action. Someone could easily say he or she pushed him or her off a cliff or off of a building or, as I mentioned, in front of a bus - or a rickshaw or moose. What about saying you set someone afire? No one uses the word afire anymore. There are hundreds of phrases that would make as much sense as the bus phrase.
How about, "Force [someone] into the toilet"? How about "Stick [someone] with a butter knife"? How about "Poked [someone] in the nose with a rubber hose"? How about "Flipped [someone] over a bus"? How about "Clamped [someone] to a NASCAR racing vehicle about to make a hundred-mile-an-hour turn"?
Think about other phrases that one may use for the act of betraying someone and replace the bus phrase with those you create, just to see if any of them will catch on and people begin to say any one of the phrases. Use your imagination because one never knows what phrases will catch on.
There is no good reason why the bus phrase stuck as it has and became the metaphor used by everyone. It is truly a phenomenon.
Frank Cotolo can be found hosting the talk and interview programme Cotolo Chronicles. You can send him an e-mail at this address:
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