My way or the highway

My way or the highway is an idiom that originated in the United States in the 1960s. An idiom is a word, group of words or phrase that has a figurative meaning that is not easily deduced from its literal definition. Often using descriptive imagery, common idioms are words and phrases used in the English language in order to convey a concise idea, and are often spoken or are considered informal or conversational. English idioms can illustrate emotion more quickly than a phrase that has a literal meaning, even when the etymology or origin of the idiomatic expression is lost. An idiom is a metaphorical figure of speech, and it is understood that it is not a use of literal language. Figures of speech have definitions and connotations that go beyond the literal meaning of the words. Mastery of the turn of phrase of an idiom or other parts of speech is essential for the English learner. Many English as a Second Language students do not understand idiomatic expressions that native speakers understand such as in a blue moon, spill the beans, let the cat out of the bag, chin up, on the ball, barking up the wrong tree, hit the nail on the head, kick the bucket, under the weather, piece of cake, when pigs fly, and raining cats and dogs, as they attempt to translate them word for word, which yields only the literal meaning. In addition to learning vocabulary and grammar, one must understand the phrasing of the figurative language of idiomatic phrases in order to know English like a native speaker. We will examine the meaning of the idiom my way or the highway, where it came from, and some examples of its use in sentences.

My way or the highway is an admonishment to do things the way that I tell you to do them, or do not participate. My way or the highway is an ultimatum that means fulfill my requirements or do not participate. The image is of one either conforming to expectations or driving away down the highway. My way or the highway is an idiom that is used when the listener does not have any option or recourse. For instance, a boss who insists that a job must be executed in a certain manner might use the idiom my way or the highway. His employee know that this means either do the job in the manner that the boss expects him to, or quit. The earliest known users of the idiom my way or the highway are American football coaches, such as Vince Lombardi and Bill Parcells.


Keyes said she was concerned about the “my way or the highway approach” administration is taking while working with teachers and support staff. (The Beloit Daily News)

Revisiting them could lead us away from the current gridlock that comes from the prevalent “my way or the highway” approach to governing. (The La Porte County Herald-Argus)

“But you cannot come to a conclusion if the president of the United States says ‘My way or the highway, there’s nothing to negotiate and, by the way, I am willing to hold the American, our federal workers hostage to my view,’” she said. (The Washington Post)

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