It’s one of the all-time great songs of summer, “Under the Boardwalk”.
Now I have never personally experienced the romantic overtones suggested by the lyrics, but nonetheless, it’s still one of my favorites because of all the other wonderful imagery contained in the lyrics.
The song came back to me as I reading a story in today’s Wall Street Journal about how popular the phrase “under the bus” has become in recent years, and in particular the past few weeks.
Here is what House Intelligence Chairman Adam Schiff said to the press after the first public hearing in the impeachment inquiry on Wednesday: “There is an effort apparently to, by the president’s allies, throw Sondland under the bus, throw Mulvaney under the bus, throw anybody under the bus in an effort to protect the president.”
The Washington Post’s Greg Sargent wrote last week that “Republicans are throwing Giuliani under the bus.” And on the conservative website The Bulwark, Philip Rotner predicted, “Eventually Trump will throw everyone under the bus.”
The phrase has become so popular that is has occasionally been shortened to a verb, “underbus“.
The Journal notes that the fuller version, “to throw someone under the bus,” has only been in circulation for a few decades as an expression of scapegoating or political betrayal.
The article closes with the following quote from Geoffrey Nunberg, a linguist at the University of California, Berkeley, who noted that while “the geography of betrayal is already mapped out pretty thoroughly in English” in numerous expressions like “fall guy,” “scapegoat,” and “sacrificial lamb,” “throw under the bus” has caught on by offering “a compelling new take on familiar perfidies.”
(Of course, since I’m no linguist, I had to look up what “perfidies” meant. Apparently it refers to deliberate breaches of faith or trust; faithlessness; treachery.)
While I know it seems to be the phrase of the moment, I think I’ll stick to the one that is most familiar to me, which is scapegoat. In case you did not know the origin of that phrase (which I did not), it refers to an animal that is ritually burdened with the sins of others, and then driven away.
Such a phrase seems to better capture what is actually happening in our political environment today, in terms of trying to place the blame for your problems on someone else, and then distancing yourself as much as possible from that individual.
I guess scapegoat just lacks the visual finality that underbusing has.
But it seems that a scapegoat may be able to get sweet revenge by leaving the nightmare that is Washington and go underboardwalking.
By the way here’s another great version of the classic song:
*image from Wikipedia, The Scapegoat
4 thoughts on “Would You Rather Be Thrown “Under the Boardwalk” or “Under the Bus”?”
I think with modern times come modern expressions. But I don’t like the verb shortening.
I prefer the full phrase myself; and the verb by itself doesn’t necessarily portray the meaning, unless you know the full phrase already.
You know how I love etymology and phrase origins. Thanks Jim!
I thought you might like this one, Brad!
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