I once published an article called “Some Kewa metaphors: body parts as automobile parts.” It got me thinking about our idioms and metaphors that go far beyond just the analogies of parts: they extend to how we talk about our feelings as well.
One time when we were driving our car across Pennsylvania on the turnpike, we literally “blew a gasket.” When this happens the gasket, a seal between two parts of the engine, has a leak and the car loses power and steam comes out from the gasket. The car can quickly become overheated, lose compression and the “head” (or block) of the engine can become warped. In our case, it was serious and we had to have the head of the engine “shaved” so that the new gasket was tight.
The expression “to blow a gasket” is analogous to someone “blowing a fuse.” When a person blows a gasket they become overheated, like a car, and mad, perhaps with a temper tantrum. It is just a serious to our body as it is to our car and it may take some time to fix the problem.
When someone is beginning to have a bad round of golf I have heard commentators say that “the wheels were beginning to come off” or that the player was “losing oil.” In both cases, if not rectified, the outcome will be disastrous. It is hard to drive a car on three wheels or without oil and the driver needs to take remedial action. Sometimes we find ourselves leaking oil and in such cases we need to know where the leak is coming from—only then can it be repaired. For an individual who is “leaking oil” or “beginning to lose it,” we can only offer sympathy.
If we have a car, we can “take someone for a ride,” perhaps to town or to the store. But if we metaphorically take someone for a ride, we are deceiving them and perhaps cheating them, especially if we are “taken for a ride” by someone that we trusted.
When we drive a car we don’t want to drive in “the middle of the road,” but when we use the expression we want to avoid extremes and try to appeal to as many people as possible.
We don’t usually do this with a car, but we can metaphorically “throw someone under the bus,” where we deliberately sacrifice someone for our own purpose. It may imply that we were once friendly with them, but now we have decided to rid ourselves of the person.
Perhaps you have had the experience of being with someone who is a “back seat driver,” with an annoying way of offering unsolicited information on how to drive, including their speed, alertness, braking, and so on. If we become a back seat driver our self we may pester a person with advice that they don’t need or want.
I have run out of gas with my car. It is embarrassing because there is a gauge that tells us how much fuel is in the tank. We were just not aware or maybe trying to get to a cheaper gas station. A person who has been at a task for some time may “run out of gas,” meaning that they have become so tired they don’t perform well. Of course, if a car does literally run out of gas, it can’t go anywhere until it gets more fuel. The same is true for us—if we run out of gas, we need to replenish our “fuel” supply with some food, water and rest.
Sometimes a driver needs to suddenly “step on the gas” to get around another vehicle or avoid a problem. If an individual needs to do the same, we mean they should do their task more quickly. We can even use the phrase to try and get someone to walk faster or to a person with a bicycle, which does not use gas, but is going too slow. Sometimes we hear “put the pedal to the metal” to get the same idea across.
On the other hand, sometimes a car driver needs to “put the brakes on”, meaning to slow down or to stop. The brakes are already on, but the motorist has to forcibly put a foot on the brake petal because the car is going too fast. We use the idiom to refer to a person or committee that is moving too fast for others to comprehend what is said or implied.
People with fast cars sometimes like to “race” so we transfer the concept of moving fast with a car to a “rat race,” where things move so quickly that we can’t keep up. Or we “race against the clock” or “against time,” doing our best to catch up with what we think we should be doing. And of course in a race, we can “run out of gas” or “run out of steam.”
When you have a fast car, you may want to “rev up” the engine, to make it sound powerful and a person who “revs up” an activity wants more action and increased interest. A similar expression is to “gun the engine” and both are done forcibly and quickly.
It is also possible to “drive a hard bargain,” such as with a car dealer when we are trying to get a lower price for a car. I would be trying to make sure I have the advantage in the sale, but I couldn’t drive a car that way.
A very bad position is to be “asleep at the wheel” and we know what happens: there is an accident at a critical moment when we should have been attentive. The same thing may happen in a meeting when we are not really prepared and “drift off” the subject.
Although a car doesn’t actually have a “fifth wheel,” the expression refers to a pick-up truck with a special hitch to pull a trailer of some sort. But if you are a “fifth wheel,” your presence is really not needed and you may feel useless.
That is probably enough to “floor us,” so I’ll “put the brakes on” for now because I’m “running on fumes.”