Continuing with my infatuation with the English language, I have another idiom to add to the long collection.  The idiom is, “When the rubber hits the road.”  It has nothing to do with rubber or roads.  The meaning of this idiomatic phrase is when something is about to begin, get serious, or be put to the test.

What is the origin of this expression?  Let me start by saying that cars, bicycles, trucks, motorcycles and other vehicles have something in common.  Their wheels are made of rubber.  So this phrase is likely referring to a car’s rubber wheels making contact with the road.

Its earliest use in a figurative way was in the mid-20th century. For example, in 1956, The Mt. Vernon Register News uses the phrase with the meaning of ‘getting serious.’ In an article the writer explains that to be succesful in advertising for radio and TV, one has to speak their language, and then goes on to list a “collection of stylized phrases” that advertising men might use:

How much is it going to cost?: ‘Let’s get down to where the rubber meets the road.

If you noticed, the expression above is written with ‘meets’ instead of ‘hits.’ That’s just another way in which this phrase is said. An early recording of its other form, where the rubber hits the road and not meeting it, appears in The Modern American Usage: A Guide by Wilson Follet, first published in 1966:

Lately, speakers have taken to saying ‘where the rubber hits the road’, evoking an image of cars falling or bouncing off the road.”  For example:  “I’ve trained my body for years so that I could win the upcoming marathon, but tomorrow, when the race actually begins, that is when the rubber hits the road and I find out how conditioned I really am.”  And now you know another idiom and how it came to be used in mainstream America.  Good Day.

4 thoughts on “Idioms”

  1. Interesting that I don’t remember ever hearing “where the rubber hits the road.” In my experience, it’s always been “where the rubber meets the road.” I rarely heard the expression any more. In fact, I don’t remember when I last heard it. But it was very, very common when I was growing up.

  2. In my opinion, that is the beauty of the language. It is so dynamic. It is never still. Like a living organism it is alive, evolves and morphs into different linguistic structures over time. There is so much to learn and so little time to absorb it all.



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s