Where does the phrase “to thumb a ride” come from and What does it mean?

The phrase “to thumb a ride”, like a number of other current expressions, is recorded in this volume for the convenience of future generations.

We know that it means to obtain a lift toward one’s destination by requesting it in dumb pantomime. It originated after the automobile had become so commonplace, around 1920, that pedestrianism almost ceased.

If one wished to go a mile, ten miles, fifty miles in either direction along almost any road in the United States, all one had to do was to take up a wistful stand at the side of the road and point with his thumb toward the direction he wished to go.

Sooner or later an obliging driver would be overcome with pity toward one so unfortunate as not to have his own car.

In the long depression after 1930, many persons were reduced to this form of locomotion, and in World War II it became a virtue to share one’s car and one’s gasoline with others unable to get tires or whose rationed gasoline had been exhausted.

By the end of World War II men in uniform were also sometimes able “to thumb a ride” on airplanes.

About Karen Hill

Karen Hill is a freelance writer, editor, and columnist. Born in New York, her work has appeared in the Examiner, Yahoo News, Buzzfeed, among others.

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