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Jump the Gun

track and field runners starting race. jump the gun

Jump the Gun Definition

Jump the gun. To act too soon or act before the time is right.

Meaning

The phrase is Believed to be a reference to track races. In the past a gun fired in the air would often be the “go” signal for runners to start the race.  Therefore jumping the gun would mean to go before the race even started.

Jump the Gun Examples

  • I think Ronald jumped the gun when he announced himself Class President before the class vote was counted. It turns out he lost by a good amount!
  • Jordan shouldn’t have bought rims for the bike he ordered before it even arrived. I knew he jumped the gun when the tires turned out to be one size smaller than he expected.

Quotes

When I originally came from ‘Cheetah Girls,’ I was making music that was real to me but not believable. I think there was a disconnect there. I am a grown woman, and I’ve been through a lot. The most important thing about my music is that we don’t jump the gun and throw anything out there.

Adrienne Bailon

I think I jumped the gun a bit on head coaching. Got named a head coach at 23, and I really didn’t know what I was doing. I remember getting that job and going, ‘Oh my God, they gave me the job.

Nick Nurse

Jump the Gun Origin

Literary Origin

When you describe his condition as ‘dying,’ you create the impression that you are rushing him to the cemetery. He could live quite a while, so don’t jump the gun.

Jacksonville Journal Courier, 1830

The earliest citation of our idiom used in the form it is today is from an advice column called Dear Abby in the Jacksonville Journal Courier newspaper. The article contains a woman asking if it is too insensitive to describe her father who is afflicted with liver cancer as ‘dying’.

Spiritual Origin

The phrase almost certainly originated from the sport of track and field racing. For over a century the custom to start a foot race is to fire a starter pistol modified to fire blanks (harmless casings that make noise but don’t fire). At the sound of the noise racers would start running.

It was a common practice among unsportsmanlike racers to begin a second before the pistol fired, otherwise known as ‘jumping the gun’. It’s pretty easy to imagine how this evolved into an idiom for starting things prematurely.

Fun fact! Although real pistols have been phased out in recent decades by electronic alternatives. Because both relied on a single sound to start the race, and it took a few more milliseconds to reach the farthest racers, it actually gave an unfair advantage to some. This problem is actually solved in official events by affixing a speaker to each racer’s footholds at the start, thus transmitting the sound almost instantly to each participant.