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:
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: