English is a peculiar language, as it borrows from other languages extensively. Anyone who ever experienced deja vu or who ate broccoli knows this well. But did you ever stop to think about what English borrows from outside other languages? Sure, there are plenty of Latin and Greek expressions, mostly from medicine, law and philosophy, that made their way into English because there was a technical need for a word expressing a specific idea, and those languages managed it, but subcultures produced plenty of other words we commonly use as well.
"Marie Kondo" has become a verb. "Fridging," a term referring to a type of plot development in comic books, has made its way into common language as well. In fact, if you look at nearly any subculture you will find that, given enough time, it will produce a phrase or expression that makes its way into common English. English has common phrases from card playing ("not playing with a full deck"), horse racing ("souped up") and even gaming ("pwned").
Car culture is one of the oldest and biggest subcultures in the world. A vast number of Americans have cars, and of those car owners, many take special interest and pride in their rides. From car clubs to wrenching enthusiasts to collectors, English has collected common phrases from car culture. How many do you know?
Hitting an object like a tree or a telephone pole at high speed can cause the metal of the car to fold into the car, meaning that the bits not hit by the object fold around the object, thus wrapping it in car. From here came the expression "to wrap a car around something".
Anyone used to either a four-speed manual or a automatic transmission might think of pressing the gas pedal flat to the floor as a way to go fast. In a stripped down muscle car, that floor could be bare metal, thus "put the pedal to the metal".
To "live out of one's car" refers to a practice, common among people evicted from their homes but in possession of a vehicle, of sleeping in their cars instead of a regular domicile. This usually involves getting a YMCA membership so one has a place to shower and eat.
"Giving a lift" is often a friendly offer when someone knows you need to get somewhere and wants to help out by driving you there. Of course, in this day and age, one must be careful about from whom one accepts free rides.
Bumper to bumper traffic, or as Los Angeles residents refer to it, "traffic", is when cars are moving so slowly that they bunch together, nearly touching bumpers. Of course, living in an age when most car bumpers are simply another part of the frame, it's an expression that is losing its meaning.
The 1940s and 1950s saw the popularization of referring to a car as "one's wheels" and thus, a compliment offered to someone with a desirable car might be to comment on the niceness of one's wheels.
After Ralph Nader published his book "Unsafe at Any Speed," about the lack of safety protocols in automobile manufacturing, mass-produced cars suddenly had seat belts. The admonition to "Buckle up, it's the law!" soon made its way onto TV PSAs and roadside signs across the country.
Traffic jams are common all over the world, but don't be confused about the meaning of the expression. The "jam" refers to too many cars and trucks "jamming" into a road without enough space, not a sweet quince-based substrate containing traffic.
When a tractor-trailer jackknifes, it means that the cab or tractor has arranged itself at a shallow angle relative to the trailer, meaning that the tractor can't pull the trailer behind it because the trailer cannot make such a tight turn. When this happens, the trailer usually needs to be decoupled so the tractor or cab can move around to the front of the trailer.
In most driving courses, drivers are taught etiquette. Cutting someone off means overtaking them aggressively and too close, creating a dangerous situation the driver who was cut off has to respond to or else collide with the offender.
In auto racing, the pit is where cars go to have their tires swapped, get new fuel, and if the driver needs anything, including relief. The expression to "make a pit stop" is thus often applied to regular driving, and means to stop at a service station for fuel, food or anything else one might need.
Backseat driving is the act of verbally correcting the driver along the way. Examples would include telling them to speed up or slow down, turn one way or another, or most commonly, use a specific route.
Shifting gears is a term that holds less and less meaning as time goes by. Traditionally, it refer to the act of manually shifting from one gear to another, in a car's gearbox, allowing the car to go faster, or slow down, or accelerate faster from a standstill, or go in reverse. Outside of driving, shifting gears often refers to changing priorities.
"One for the road" refers to having a drink before getting into a car and driving. It's a terrible idea. Today, it often refers to having one last drink, or bite, or anything before leaving, not just drinking and driving.
In the UK, speed bumps are usually called "sleeping policemen" because they are roughly the size and shape of a person sleeping on the road, and perform the function of police, in that they get drivers to slow down.
Hitting a car or truck tire when it is on a wheel gives a sense of the tire's pressure and alignment, depending on how it moves. Checking the tires is also part of the four-point check you're supposed to do before setting off, so "kicking the tires" has come to mean "checking things out".
Colloquially at least, things that are "down" the road are things that haven't been experienced yet. Thus, referring to things "down the road" means talking about things that are yet to transpire, or destinations not yet reached.
The expression "driving on fumes" refers to how gasoline fumes are enough to spark the explosions that run internal combustion engines, and thus it is possible for a car to run without any liquid gasoline left in the engine.
Henry Ford didn't see the value in having more than one color available for cars. As a result, all the cars made by Ford on his watch were black, even when other car makers began offering all sorts of colors.
The expression "three on the tree" refers to how, on some older manual cars that only had three-speed gearboxes, the gear lever came out of the steering column rather than the center console. These days, certain cars still have something akin to this setup, only with an automatic, most Mercedes-Benz cars, for example.
A car boot sale is like a yard sale, only instead of a yard, you fill up the trunk (or "boot") of your car, drive it somewhere and sell things out of it. It may sound sketchy, but in some places, this is the norm.
This expression is more British than American, but it can be applied either way. Buses aren't the most beautiful of vehicles, and anyone stuck staring at the back of one while in traffic is probably used to the rather uninspiring design. Obviously, comparing this to someone's face isn't a friendly thing to do.
Car pooling began as a way to reduce traffic, and allow less expensive commuting. In time, it became more about using less fuel and thus producing less carbon dioxide. Whatever the reason, the expression really makes one want to take a dip, doesn't it?
While being driven up a wall, to distraction, or around the bend all have similar meanings, only the last of the three has anything to do with actually driving. Driving someone around the bend relates the idea of driving a car to a destination out of sight to the idea of reaching the end of someone's patience, and continuing.
The test drive has come under a lot of criticism of late. Obviously, it's good for figuring out how one feels about the comfort of the seats, the ergonomics of the interior, and the personality of the engineering. What it fails to show is reliability and real world experience, like what it's like loading the trunk with two arms full of groceries.
Dead ends have a dismal-sounding name, but the name doesn't have morbid origins. Dead ending roads are described that way because their end does not become another road, or branch out in any way, as with a cul de sac.
Hitting the road may sound like something one does out of rage, but this is far from the truth. It refers to the car making contact with the road, or "hitting" it. The hit takes place where the rubber meets the road.
Calling someone a hog is a tradition as old as domesticated farm animals. Hogs want all of something. There used to be ads on the New York City subway asking riders not to be "seat hogs". Similarly, road hogs are people who drive, not in one lane, but in as many lanes as they can be in simultaneously.
This expression is just an English expression, but it comes from maintaining cars. When something makes an annoying noise, making clear that there is a problem, people are inclined to fix it first. This is why the squeaky wheel gets the grease, even if other wheels need it too.
The best expressions and sayings include rhymes. An amber gambler is someone who speeds up when a light turns yellow (amber) so they can beat the light and cross the intersection. The problem of course, hence the gambler part, is that the light will change faster than expected and the car will run a red, and get hit.
U-turns aren't usually legal, but K turns are. "K turns" are an older term used less and less that means a 3-point turn. 3-point turns are nearly always legal, unlike U-turns, and you get to use an unusual letter for them, which is fun!
Before anti-lock brakes, when one wanted to come to a stop, one needed to pump the brakes, meaning press and release them repeatedly. If a driver didn't do this, the brakes could lock and the car could slide.
Chop shops are places where stolen cars are disassembled and sold off in parts. Why? Because cars have unique VINs (Vehicle Identification Numbers) which make selling a stolen car very difficult. Parts, on the other hand, are fungible.
"Panda car" is an expression referring to police cruisers, which, like pandas, are black and white. Like a lot of slang, it uses a funny descriptor in place of the actual defining quality of a thing.
Buses have huge steering wheels which sit in front of the driver like a skeletal pizza, so large the driver has to hug it to turn it. Similarly, someone vomiting might have to hug the porcelain bathroom fixture into which they are disgorging the contents if their stomachs, as if they were driving a bus.