I wonder about the meaning of TO HIT in this kind of context,

Follow this footpath and you’ll eventually hit the road.

There is also a song which goes as follows

hit the road, Jack ...

Can anyone help me grasp the meaning of TO HIT in these specific context?

  • The meaning of your phrase can be found here, or are you asking why the specific use of the word hit? – Peter Jun 11 '17 at 12:49
  • Slang for "to strike out upon a journey, to depart". We can also say, "Do you want to hit a few pubs|bars after work on Friday? I have to hit the head. Do you wanna hit a movie? We hit a few art galleries on our trip to New York." and there it means "to visit". – Tᴚoɯɐuo Jun 11 '17 at 12:55
  • @Tᴚoɯɐuo You're completely right that it's simply part of the definition of hit. I said as much with a link to the OED definition of the word and have gotten nothing but downvotes, apparently for personal reasons from separate entries. How do you get in touch with an admin about site abuse like that? – lly Jun 14 '17 at 19:36
  • @Ily: I don't much like anonymous downvotes but they're allowed on SE sites. I'd be all for raising the reputation requirement to leave downvotes to at least 5,000. – Tᴚoɯɐuo Jun 14 '17 at 19:58

The first hit means to encounter, to come across:

verb (used with object), hit, hitting.

  1. to come or light upon; meet with; find: to hit the right road.


If you follow that footpath, you will eventually find the road.

I would say the second one is part of an idiom: hit the road. In that context, the speaker is commanding Jack to leave, to go away. However, in a different context, it can simply mean to begin a journey.

  • hit the road
    to leave; go away
    to start or resume travelling
    (Collins Dictionary)
  • hit the road
    Fig. to depart; to begin one's journey, especially on a road trip; to leave for home. It's time to hit the road. I'll see you. We have to hit the road very early in the morning.
  • Yes, "hit the road" is an idiom. That said, the sense of "hit" being used in it is not solely idiomatic. It's not sui generis the way "cats and dogs" are in "raining cats and dogs". – lly Jun 11 '17 at 13:40

The second definition in merriam webster gives

to cause to come into contact

The word is so short, it subsumes multiple meanings depending on context.

to discover or meet especially by chance

This seems to fit finding the right road.

To deliver a blow

This seems to fit with the song, as a powerful, aversive connotation is implied, as if Jack is let falling down to hit (his head on) the road. But its not quite as strong, I hope - maybe Jack will meet someone by chance anew, but the song doesn't care.


Also, to hit the road is an idiom that means, to leave.

to go on the road would have a different meaning, to travel, so a different idiom is needed.


Hit has a base sense of violent contact, but is used figuratively to express any strong or emphatic contact.

The hit in

Head on over yonder and y'all'll hit the road sooner or later.

is reach or meet, just sexed up a little. It's worth noting that Americans will associate this expression with places that don't have paved roads (i.e., the sticks) and, sometimes, with the people who live there (yokels). It's a bog standard sense of the verb, though. (Sense II.11.ff. at the OED, which notes its odd history: the reach or meet sense of hit was the word's standard sense in Old Norse but mostly disappeared in English only to reappear in colloquial American speech.)

Similarly, to go or to set out on a journey was the base sense of strike, one of hit's primary synonyms. The hit in

Hit the road, bub.

has a long history into Old English as strike out upon and means step briskly, not so much that one needs to be running but that one moves sharply and emphatically away from this place.

It may feel a little odd even to a native speaker (notice the answers that only want to treat hit the road as a pat phrase) since modern English tends to use hit for blows from a fist or hand-held tool and uses kick for strikes from one's feet. It's part-and-parcel of the actual English term, though, back to Old Norse and Old English, revived by an American tendency to indulge in stronger and more violent means of expression.

  • Anyone care to explain which part of the OED they have a problem with? – lly Jun 12 '17 at 5:14
  • Still no? How do you get in touch with an admin when people seem to be downvoting sourced and accurate answers for personal reasons? – lly Jun 14 '17 at 19:34

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