Tailgating is an American idiom with an uncertain origin. An idiom is a commonly used word, group of words, or phrase that has a figurative meaning that is not easily deduced from its literal definition. Often using descriptive imagery or metaphors, 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 like an often-used metaphor have definitions and connotations that go beyond the literal meaning of the words. Mastery of the turn of phrase of an idiom, which may use slang words or other parts of speech common in American slang or British slang, is essential for the English learner. Many English as a Second Language students do not understand idiomatic expressions and idiomatic language such as hit the sack, spill the beans, let the cat out of the bag, silver lining, back to the drawing board, barking up the wrong tree, kick the bucket, hit the nail on the head, face the music, under the weather, piece of cake, when pigs fly, and raining cats and dogs, because they attempt to translate them word for word, which yields only the literal meaning. English phrases that are idioms should not be taken literally. 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; it is helpful to maintain a list of phrases, common expressions, colloquial terms, and popular expressions to memorize that are used figuratively or idiomatically. We will examine the meaning of the idiom tailgating, where it came from, and some examples of its idiomatic usage in sentences.

Tailgating has two, very different definitions. The first definition of tailgating is failing to leave room between the car one is driving and the car traveling of front of you. This type of tailgating is dangerous and against the law. The second definition of tailgating is to have a picnic in a parking lot before one attends a sports event. The image is of one opening a truck tailgate to lay out a spread of food. The origin of this definition of tailgating is hotly contested. Some contend it began in the mid-1800s at an Ivy League football game, when spectators ate refreshments while standing at the tail-ends of their horses. A more likely scenario is that the term tailgating was derived from opening the tailgate of one’s truck or station wagon, because the term did not become popular until the mid-twentieth century. Tailgating can be as simple as eating crackers and cheese or as complicated as smoking a whole pig. Tailgate is the verb form, related words are tailgates, tailgated, tailgater.


She said Clarke and his girlfriend, who was a passenger in the car, were frightened as another driver “tailgated” his car on several occasions in an “intimidating manner”. (North Wales Daily Post)

Across from NRG Stadium on Sunday, Jay Neff, and two friends stood behind his pickup truck for a modest pregame tailgate before they entered the stadium for the first true Houston Texans “home game” of the season — i.e. the first game a limited number of fans are allowed to enjoy the action. (The Houston Chronicle)

But this year, Lincoln Financial Field and its surrounding parking lots and streets will be free of fans — including the hundreds of faithful tailgaters who show up at the crack of dawn. (The Philadelphia Inquirer)

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