Did someone use the phrase 'jump the gun,' and you’re wondering what it means? In this article, we’ll take a look at the meaning, origin, examples, and more.
If you ‘jump the gun,’ it means that you acted too soon. This is a phrase that can be used when someone starts something too soon or takes action before the right time.
‘Jump the gun’ is an idiom that means that you acted before the time was right.
For example, if your friend got married after only having known someone for a few days, you might say that you’re worried they ‘jumped the gun.’ Similarly, if you sold stock options right before they really increased in value, you might chastise yourself for ‘jumping the gun.’
‘Jump the gun’ also has two additional meanings that relate to specific fields.
‘Jump the gun’ comes from the world of track and field. Dating back to the early 1900s, this phrase has to do with the fact that the start of the race would be indicated with a gunshot.
In a 1905 publication called Crowther and Ruhl’s Rowing and Track Athletics, the phenomenon is mentioned:
“False starts were rarely penalized, the pistol generally followed immediately on the signal ‘Get set!’ and so shiftless were the starters and officials that ‘beating the pistol’ was one of the tricks which less sportsmanlike runners constantly practiced.”
An early– and perhaps the earliest– printed example of the idiom shows up in an issue of The Iowa Homestead from 1921. Here we find the following sentence that uses the phrase:
“Give the pigs a good start; jump the gun, so to speak, and get them on a grain ration before weaning time.”
Using the Google Books Ngram Viewer, we see that 'jump the gun’ we see that the phrase has been in use since the early 20th century. However, many of the earliest examples are found in publications related to gunnery and aren’t instances of idiomatic usage.
One instance of the phrase in its idiomatic use shows up in an issue of Popular Mechanics from March of 1939. Interestingly, this article is discussing a new technology that prevents runners from ‘jumping the gun’ during a race.
“Runner Cannot “Jump the Gun” Equipped With Ground Plate: Jumping the starting gun in a foot race is impossible with an electrical apparatus demonstrated at the Amateur Athletic Union convention. If the runner lifts his hand prematurely from the pad, electrical contact with the gun is broken, preventing it from being fired.”
Another example shows up in a document from 1941 from the U.S. Special Committee Investigating the National Defense Program:
“Why did you jump the gun on lumber?”
“Well, because going back to our conversation at lunch because the newspapers were really riding us.”
For a third example, we look to a May 1932 issue of Boys’ Life:
“In practice workouts he was fast enough; he’d stepped the hundred in ten-two this spring. But competition had his goat; with men to beat his nerves went haywire. He’d jump the gun, the starter’d set him back; twice, three times, maybe. By then, he was out of the race. Always the same.”
How would 'jump the gun' be used in a sentence? Let’s take a look at some examples:
What are some other words and phrases that have a similar meaning to 'jump the gun'? Here are some options:
‘Jump the gun’ is a common and useful phrase you can use to describe acting too soon. This expression comes from the sport of track and field, where races would be started with a gunshot in the air. When someone started running before the gun fired, it became known as ‘jumping the gun.’
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