Put the Pedal to the Metal

To put the pedal to the metal has long been used in regards to driving a car, especially in action movies involving car chases. It means literally to press a car’s gas pedal all the way to the floor but figuratively, it means to drive very fast. If you are in a hurry you might tell a person driving to ‘put the pedal to the metal’ so that you will not arrive late. So, literally, to put the pedal to the metal means to drive faster or very fast, but it has now passed into general use. I’ll give a more precise figurative meaning but the best way to think of this idiom is ‘to go faster or as fast as possible, perhaps recklessly so’ whether in regards to driving a car or any other effort.

Meaning of Idiom ‘Put the Pedal to the Metal’

To put the pedal to the metal means to do something as fast as possible; to speed up one’s efforts in order to accomplish a task in a shorter period.

The OED defines ‘put the pedal to the metal’ as to accelerate, to drive at top speed; (in extended use) to proceed very rapidly or recklessly; to perform to one’s full capacity. 1Stevenson, Angus. Oxford Dictionary of English. Oxford University Press, 2010.

See related idiom: Burn Rubber


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Examples Of Use

“Were supposed to be at the airport at least an hour early. Put the pedal to the metal.”

“They’re starting this job tomorrow. We’re going to have to put the pedal to the metal to be finished by end of day.”

“Isn’t your assignment due by tomorrow? It’s time you put the pedal to the metal, don’t you think?”

“We’re running late but we can make up some lost time if we put the pedal to the metal.”

Origin

The pedal being referred to in this idiom is a car’s accelerator or gas pedal. Since a car’s floorboard, in modern times, is normally made of metal, to put the pedal to the metal means to press the gas pedal as far down as it will go, thus making the car accelerate to the maximum. Another way of saying this is to ‘floor it.’ In regards to vehicles, this idiom originated in the 1970s.

I remember hearing this phrase in the 1978 trucker movie Convoy starring Kris Kristofferson aka Rubber Duck. After the Sherriff Lyle Wallace crashes his car, Rubber duck suggests that he should probably ‘lay off the acrobatics’ until he got better control of his car. At this point, the character Reverend Sloane breaks in to say “I don’t read nothin’ in scripture that says thou shall not put the pedal to the metal.” This idiom originated during the 1970s and indeed, the phrase probably originated with truckers who used it as CB lingo.

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Sources   [ + ]

1. Stevenson, Angus. Oxford Dictionary of English. Oxford University Press, 2010.