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What does "Jump the Gun" Mean?

Michael Pollick
Updated May 23, 2024
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The idiom jump the gun means a person may have acted too hastily or made a snap decision based on inadequate or partial information. The phrase could be used for an employer who hires the first applicant he or she interviews, for example, or a news organization that projects a winner based only on a handful of election returns. By assuming facts not in evidence, a person can often assume the best or worst case scenario in any situation.

The origin of the idiom can be traced back to the early days of track and field sports. Many running events required the use of a loud, unambiguous starting signal in order to guarantee an equal and fair start for all competitors. Officials originally used a real handgun to signal the start of a race, then later employed a modified "starter's pistol" that used blank cartridges. Any runner who ran out before the shot was charged with a false start and faced disqualification. Runners soon learned to wait for the sound of the starter's pistol and not jump the gun.

In a modern sense, jumping the gun can imply a deliberate attempt to gain an advantage over competitors. An ambitious company with a new product may feel tempted to release it to the public ahead of a competitor's similar product. This may prove to be a wise move because consumers become loyal to the first product on the marked, or it may be unwise because the product has not been fully tested before release. In many cases, a company that releases a product too soon can rightfully be accused of jumping the gun with consumers.

To jump the gun can mean to make a rush to judgment before all the facts are known. Sometimes this kind of anticipatory action can have a positive result, but much of the time someone who jumps the gun eventually makes a wrong or misinformed decision, or takes the wrong set of actions based on inaccurate early information. Quite often, a piece of bad or disturbing news is delivered along with an admonition not to assume the worst until all the facts are in.

Language & Humanities is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Michael Pollick
By Michael Pollick
As a frequent contributor to Language & Humanities, Michael Pollick uses his passion for research and writing to cover a wide range of topics. His curiosity drives him to study subjects in-depth, resulting in informative and engaging articles. Prior to becoming a professional writer, Michael honed his skills as an English tutor, poet, voice-over artist, and DJ.
Discussion Comments
By jonrss — On Jun 03, 2011

Whenever I hear the phrase "Jump the Gun" I think of that line from the Beatles song Happiness is a Warm Gun, "Mother Superior Jump the gun" that they sing over an over so strikingly. I always loved that line even if I'm not totally sure what it means!

By backdraft — On Jun 02, 2011

I am a former 100M dash runner and the phrase "Jump the gun" has always gotten under my skin. Its probably because I am too close to the source material. In my world that used to be a disaster. Now, when anyone says it, I can't help but think of starting to soon and blowing a race even if someone mentions it in a context that is totally different. Funny what sticks with you. I bet firefighters don't like jokes about fire.

By ZsaZsa56 — On May 31, 2011

@CoveredInIt - They are funny. When you mentioned preemptive action my mind went immediately to the war in Iraq which obviously has not worked out so well.

Its also funny to think that this particular idiom could take on a positive connotation. In track where the expression originates, anyone who jumps the gun is either disqualified or cheating. It is never a positive thing. Makes me wonder how this could come to mean something positive? I guess that language has a life of its own.

By CoveredInIt — On Apr 07, 2011

I'm glad the article puts the potential positive benefits of "jumping the gun" into perspective here.

I suppose if it pays off it can be changed to "preemptive action", words are funny like that.

Michael Pollick
Michael Pollick
As a frequent contributor to Language & Humanities, Michael Pollick uses his passion for research and writing to cover a...
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