So I was watching Friends season 10 (yeah, the last one :() episode 14, “The One With Princess Consuela” when I heard Joey shouting “Shotgun!” and Chandler following him by saying “Damn it!”. I obviously understood it wasn’t something good but I had no idea what Joey was talking about.
To call shotgun means to request the front passenger seat. Simply saying “Shotgun!”, like Joey did, kind of grants you the right of sitting in the most desired sit of a car. You’ll then be “riding shotgun”.
But why shotgun? I mean, what has a shotgun to do with a car?
The idiom is not that fresh and it comes from a time when cars were not that fast as they’re today. Actually, cars were not cars as we know, but stagecoaches instead.
Back then, it was always a good idea to keep someone next to the stagecoach’s rider (or driver if you will) to shoot at any threat that could appear. Clearly they wouldn’t use a marksman (i.e. a person who can handle a rifle) to transport people or low-valued items. If you saw an armed stagecoach, you could be certain that something really important and/or valuable was being moved around.
This idiom remembered me a informal one: “to call dibs” which has a similar idea. The idea on both idioms is to claim a preference for something. You call dibs when you want to be the first to do something or choose something you know more people will want to as well. “Oh, are you guys really moving out? I call dibs on your apartment!”. As the apartment is about to be free, I really like it and more people will probably like it too, I called dibs on it so I can be the first to get the change of having it. It’s obviously nothing serious nor legal but it’s something you can say to your friends and if they’re good ones they will just respect it.
A reader, Caroline Meinert, pointed out a very interesting phrase which can be use as a rebuttal. “No bullets!” is what you should say immediately after one’s call for shotgun. That way that person will not be able to get what he/she wants. Bazinga!