How About "Tossed Out the Airlock" Instead?

Gosh, I've noticed that phrase "thrown under the bus" a lot recently. It's gone from "colorful metaphor" to "overworked cliché" in the blink of an eye. (Also an overworked cliché "in the blink of an eye.")

For example, a couple days ago in the Washington Post Eugene Robinson op-edded on The Rev. Jeremiah Wright Jr.:

Historically and theologically, he was inflating his importance in a pride-goeth-before-the-fall kind of way. Politically, by surfacing now, he was throwing Barack Obama under the bus.

Robinson opined that Senator Obama should return the favor, and (as many have noted) that's what happened. Not everyone's happy about that. Over at HuffPo, Charles Karel Bouley opines:

And as for Obama, shame on you. You were a proud member of that church for 20 years and now because it upsets white people you throw your pastor under the bus. Shame on you. He has the right to free speech. And you once called him friend and you knew him. He hasn't changed. You have, Obama.

As near as I can tell, despite his prose style, Charles Karel Bouley is not a 14-year-old girl.

Tony Dokoupil at Newsweek was <cliché>ahead of the curve</cliché>, tiring of the "suddently inescapable phrase" back in March (That was back when Obama had recently refused to throw Wright under the bus, but had instead thrown his typical-white-person grandma under the bus.)

Where did it come from? Why is it suddenly ubiquitous? And at the risk of sounding overly sensitive, is it even advisable, given its ugly echo with the "back of the bus" legacy of African-Americans?

Let it be said that Pun Salad is in favor of throwing people under the bus without regard to race, creed, color, national origin, sex, sexual orientation, political affiliation, military status, marital status, family status, age, religious beliefs, irreligious beliefs, or physical, intellectual, learning, cognitive or emotional disabilities.

Joel Achenbach at the Washington Post does follow-up research. He quotes the Urban Dictionary

'You get thrown under the bus when someone (usually a co-worker) reports some wrongdoing or slacking off to a superior or other influential person. Sometimes used with the suffix "Vrooooom!" to simulate the noise the bus would make as it passes by at a high rate of speed.'

There seems to be a fundamental ambiguity in the metaphor:

  1. One can get thrown

    • into the luggage compartment underneath the bus

    • while it's stationary.

  2. On the other hand, one can get thrown

    • underneath the wheels of the bus

    • while it's moving ("Vrooooom!")

… with obvious differences in implied attitude and outcome. Pun Salad recommends that people deploying this cliché indicate, by hand motions, sound effects, footnotes, crude illustrations, or interpretive dance, which of these meanings is to be taken.

Apparently the phrase is unrelated in any way to the 1987 Billy Crystal/Danny DeVito movie Throw Momma from the Train, nor the Patti Page song by which the movie's title was inspired:

Throw mama from the train a kiss, a kiss
Wave mama from the train a goodbye
Throw mama from the train a kiss a kiss
And don't cry, my baby, don't cry

How I miss that sweet lady with her old-country touch
Miss her quaint broken English called *Pennsylvania Dutch*
I can still see her there at the station that day
Calling out to her baby as the train pulled away

Yes, this is a blatant attempt to cut into Mark Steyn's audience.

Note the song refers to unusual syntax used in Pennsylvania, a reference made even more obscure by time. The song was written by Irving Gordon, who also wrote Unforgettable, popularized by Nat King Cole. The Wikipedia entry for the song reveals:

  • Homer and Jethro, a country music comedy team, recorded a parody of this song that included the lines "Throw mama from the train, but quick, but quick."

  • In New York City during the 1950s, Jewish street vendors who sold knishes near subway train stations lettered signs that punned, "Throw Mama from the train a knish, a knish ... don't leave her hungry behind".

At least in this neck of the system administration woods, we have a saying: what if X gets hit by a bus? Referring, indelicately, to how well IT organizations like ours can deal with sudden unexpected loss of personnel. One of my major current projects is working on my documentation, known as the "Paul Gets Hit by a Bus" stuff. Although, since I'm an optimist at heart, I like to substitute "Beer Truck" for "Bus."

Last Modified 2012-10-12 7:44 AM EDT