'Throw Someone Under the Bus': Definition, Meaning, Examples

By Carly Forsaith, updated on September 22, 2023

What does it mean when you say you'll 'throw someone under the bus?' Read on if you want to understand this idiom and where it comes from. This article will reveal all.

In short, the meaning of this idiom is as follows:

  • To throw someone under the bus is to betray them by putting them in harm's way in order to benefit ourselves. 

What Does 'Throw Someone Under a Bus' Mean?

If you think about someone throwing you under a bus, how does that make you feel? I'd wager that you would probably feel betrayed and hard done by. You can also safely say it's not a very nice thing to do.

And that captures the essence of this phrase's meaning. It's not a very nice thing to do, and it's a form of betrayal.

'Throw someone under a bus' is an idiom, which means you can't take it literally. It's not referring to the criminal act of pushing someone into a moving vehicle. It actually refers to the act of betraying someone by reporting them, openly criticizing them, or otherwise publicly shaming them so that they get punished, and we can reap the benefits.

The dictionary defines it as such:

to do something harmful to someone else in order to gain an advantage for yourself.

Imagine, for instance, that you knew you and your colleague were in competition to receive a promotion at work. You happen to know that the colleague in question has recently been showing up late for work, but the boss doesn't know, so you tell them that you'll be favored for the promotion. That would be throwing your colleague under the bus.

'Throw someone under the bus' contains a verb ('throw'), which means you might see it in different forms, such as the present simple ('throw'), the present participle ('throwing'), the past participle ('thrown), the past indefinite ('threw') or the third person singular ('throws').

Where Does 'Throw Someone Under a Bus' Come From?

So, where exactly does this saying originate from? When did people start saying it, and why? All idioms have an origin story, but it's not always easy to pinpoint.

British Politics

The origin of this idiom isn't precisely known. Still, it's commonly agreed that it came from the United Kingdom and probably got its start within the context of politics to talk about politicians betraying each other. The Brits had already long used the expression 'under the bus' as a metaphor for someone's misfortune or 'hit by a bus' to talk about somebody dying. Therefore, it would make sense that the saying evolved from there.

One of the first noted uses of the idiom in this sense was in The Times in 1982, in the following excerpt (although you'll note the slightly different wording):

The Conservative benches listened to her in silence. She was in deep trouble and the lobbies hummed with the prospect of her departure. President Galtieri had pushed her under the bus which the gossips had said was the only means of her removal.

Following this, the idiom soon made its way to the United States, where it became commonly used in the context of sports and politics—notably in the 2008 presidential campaign.

Cyndi Lauper

Some sources incorrectly attribute the idiom to Cyndi Lauper, who was said to have used this expression in a Washington Post interview in 1984:

In the rock 'n' roll business, you are either on the bus or under it.

However, as we saw earlier, the phrase was already in use before that, and what's more, to 'be under a bus' does not have the same meaning as to be 'thrown under' it.


Some believe the saying originates from the minor-league baseball games, as players often took the bus to go to games. It was common to hear coaches telling the team:

 You're either on the bus or you're under it.

As a form of threat to make sure they showed up to catch the bus on game day.

But yet again, the phrase in this context doesn't have the same meaning. The coach doesn't mean to say he will betray the players; he just means that the matches are very important for the players, and not attending them could harm their careers.

Examples in Sentences

Now we've covered the idiom's meaning and its possible origins, let's look at some examples of it being used in a sentence.

I'll show you examples of the idiom in all its different forms, which include the present simple ('throw'), the present participle ('throwing'), the past participle ('thrown), the past indefinite ('threw') and the third person singular ('throws').

Instead of taking responsibility for his actions, he's just throwing everyone else under the bus.

Politicians are always throwing each other under the bus. 

I tried not to lose the keys as I knew I'd get thrown under the bus if I did.

Why do you still trust her? She always throws you under the bus.

She wanted to buy candy with the money but she knew her brother would throw her under the bus.

I've been thrown under the bus for the last time; I'm out!

Why did you throw her under the bus? She hasn't done anything wrong.

You don't want to work for an organization that throws its employees under the bus.

I can't believe you threw me under the bus and told mom about my boyfriend.

I'm throwing her under the bus the first chance I get; she'd do the same to me.

Other Ways to Say 'Throw Someone Under a Bus'

There are other ways to say that you have betrayed someone or that they have betrayed you for their own benefit.

Here are some of them:

  • make a scapegoat
  • throw to the wolves
  • fall guy
  • sacrifice
  • sell down the river
  • feed to the lions
  • lay the blame on
  • point the finger

Concluding Thoughts

That concludes this article; hopefully, by now, you know that to 'throw someone under the bus' means betraying them for your own gain. Needless to say, I don't recommend doing this if you want to keep your friends!

Are you ready to learn more English phrases and expand your vocabulary? Be sure to check out our idioms blog for idioms, expressions, sayings, and more! 

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Written By:
Carly Forsaith
Carly Forsaith is one of the lead freelance writers for WritingTips.org. Carly is a copywriter who has been writing about the English language for over 3 years. Before that, she was a teacher in Thailand, helping people learn English as a second language. She is a total grammar nerd and spends her time spotting language errors on signs and on the internet.

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