A man getting pushed in front of a bus

Throw under the bus

Meaning: Betray someone

Originated in: 🇬🇧 United Kingdom

Original quote: Push under the bus

Earliest attestation: London Times article by Julian Critchley (June 21, 1982)

To throw someone under the bus is to betray him unexpectedly. It invokes the image of two friends walking down the street together when one pushes the other in front of a bus without warning. It is a an unjustified and seemingly senseless betrayal, although usually such an action is for personal gain. The phrase is often used in the context of business or politics, where it is common for people to betray their colleagues in order to advance their own careers. The phrase is also used in a more general sense to describe any act of betrayal or disloyalty.

It is a surprisingly recent idiom for its widespread use. It ultimately derives from an older phrase where people would say the only way they were getting rid of someone entrenched in his position was if he “fell under a bus”. Unless the person was hit by a bus, he was not going anywhere. This had been said about Margaret Thatcher even in her first ministry as her policies drastically improved the British economy which was priorly spiraling downwards with massive inflation. Then in 1982, Argentinian President Leopoldo Galtieri invaded the Falkland Islands, a British territory, to try to distract from Argentina’s own economic problems and the growing unrest against his dictatorship. This was seen as a completely self-motivated betrayal against the United Kingdom. Julian Critchley, a prominent critic of Thatcher, characterized it as trying to destabilize Thatcher’s government, which Argentina could then take advantage of if the UK could not agree on a response and had to work out a new coalition. To describe this, he humorously invented the modern twist on the original phrase by saying that “President Galtieri had pushed her under the bus which the gossips had said was the only means of her removal.” This was then picked up by other journalists and the phrase quickly spread throughout the world to describe backstabbing of all sorts.