Starting too soon; something that occurs earlier than it should have.
Example: I wasn’t supposed to tell the others about our secret project until next week, but I jumped the gun and revealed it early. (In other words, he revealed it prematurely.)
Example #2: My dad was on his way over to teach me how to change my car’s oil. I’ve never done it before, so I appreciated him taking the time to help me. However, he’s currently running late, so maybe I should attempt to do it alone? Nah, on second thought, I don’t want to jump the gun and mess anything up before he gets here. (In other words, I don’t want to start before I’m supposed to.)
Similar: premature, too early, too soon
The Origin Of ‘Jump The Gun’
Where does the phrase “jump the gun” come from? It’s believed that this expression originates from track and field racing. The reason for this is because a starting pistol (aka a gun) is commonly used to kick off these races. Indeed, when the starting pistol fires, the sound of the shot signals the runners to begin. It basically means “GO!”
However, sometimes while the runners are waiting for the pistol to fire, one (or more) of them will start the race before the trigger is even pulled. Hence, that runner “jumped the gun,” as the saying goes. Put another way, he started the race earlier than he should have. Eventually, this occurrence in track and field racing became a phrase, and now it is used for when anyone starts doing something prematurely.
Okay, so how long has this saying existed? We know that it’s about 190 years old at the minimum because it dates back to at least the year 1830. In that year, the idiom was used under an advice column in the Jacksonville Journal Courier newspaper. To give some context for the quote below, people would sometimes write in to a woman named Abby for counsel and so this was part of her response to someone who wrote in:
“When you describe his condition as ‘dying,’ you create the impression that you are rushing him to the cemetery. He could live quite a while, so don’t jump the gun.“
Here are examples of this phrase and similar words used in sentences:
- This new car has a sleek design. I want to buy it, but I should be careful not to jump the gun on something with such a hefty price tag. I’ll think about it some more.
- Leo received a gift, but he opened it prematurely; he was supposed to wait for everyone else.
- Ava put the cake in the oven too soon, she needed to wait for the temperature to rise.
Note: The origin of many phrases and idioms are not known. So what you’ll see on the page instead are speculative explanations that may be plausible to how a phrase originated.
In addition, quotes that contain a particular phrase may be taken from old newspapers, poems, or books that were written a long time ago. These are typically the oldest citations I could find. The source that I quote does necessarily mean the phrase originated from it. All it means is that it’s at least as old as the source material.