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"My cat jumped on the chair" means that the cat jumped up and down on top of the chair. The same thing goes with "jump on the horse". But, why is it okay to say "jump on the bandwagon" and not " jump onto the bandwagon"? Unless the idiom describes the movement of jumping while the person is on the bandwagon, which doesn't really seem to correspond the actual meaning of the idiom.

One of the reasons that I am confused by this is because this comment: https://forum.wordreference.com/threads/on-and-onto.202558/

Onto generally describes the action of movement onto another thing.

Please put the plates onto the table.
My cat jumped onto my chair.

On can also take the second meaning, however, one must be careful of its use.

Please put the plates on the table. This means the same as Please put the plates onto the table.

However,

My cat jumped on my chair means that the cat is jumping up and down on top of the chair. In this instance, we must use onto if we want to describe the movement from the floor onto the chair."

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It is quite common in English to say 'x jumped on y' when you really mean 'x jumped onto y'. So, if I say, 'The cat jumped on the chair', it is highly unlikely that I mean that the cat jumped up on down on the chair. It is almost certain that I simply mean,'The cat jumped onto the chair'.

Similarly, it is highly unlikely that someone will stand on a horse and jump up and down on it, unless you are at a circus performance. 'Jump on a horse', most likely means, 'Mount (or climb onto the back of) a horse'.

There are exceptions. If I said, 'The children are jumping on the bed', then it is very likely that the children are jumping up and down on a bed.

So, coming to your question, why do we say 'Jump on the bandwagon', when we really mean, 'Jump onto the bandwagon'? There are probably two reasons, apart from what I said in my very first sentence.
(1) This is a figurative expression, which really means that you waited until an idea, activity or viewpoint became popular before you showed an interest in it. So you are not really jumping onto anything, let alone a bandwagon. As a consequence, it doesn't matter whether we use 'on' or 'onto'.
(2) This is just a common English idiom, and like most idioms, people use it without giving much thought to its actual underlying origins, i.e., people physically jumping onto a circus bandwagon. Because they don't think about the origins of the idiom, it would be easy for the 'to' at the end of 'onto' to be dropped over time.

  • Hi, thanks for your reply. That as exactly what I had thought until I read this. "Onto generally describes the action of movement onto another thing. ... However, My cat jumped on my chair means that the cat is jumping up and down on top of the chair. In this instance, we must use onto if we want to describe the movement from the floor onto the chair." forum.wordreference.com/threads/on-and-onto.202558 – Tom Lee Sep 7 '18 at 16:47
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    Also, this works with "climb/hop" (climb/hop on/onto my back; I'll take you across the river), but I don't think it works with other words that might seem like the same thing like "leapt" "My cat leapt onto the shelf", not "My cat leapt on the shelf". The fewer letters a word has in English, the more challenging it is to come up with a "rule" to use it properly.... – ColleenV Sep 7 '18 at 17:19
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    @ Tom Lee Your quote comes from item 2 in the page referred to in your link. If you look further down to item 7, the same person clarifies this as follows: "My cat jumped on my chair. While this can also mean the exact same thing as in the first example above, it could, if taken literally, mean that the cat is: a) already on the chair, and b) jumping up and down upon it. This is realistically not possible since cats don't tend to jump up and down on things. " So this person also accepts that 'my cat jumped on the chair' likely means 'jump onto' not 'jump up and down'. – James Sep 8 '18 at 6:07
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The way I think of it would be like this:

A wagon is essentially a container, in this case a bandwagon is a container of people. One does not get on top of a container, but rather inside of it.

Therefore, you would get on (which is used generally, similar to "joining" a group, or alternatively a general term for boarding/entering a vehicle) the bandwagon, but not "onto", since that would be on top of it, which would not make much sense.

Hope that makes sense!

  • This is a good point, we get on the bus/train/plane/ship, not onto it unless we are riding on the roof. Our luggage is put on the train/plane/bus/ship as well. – ColleenV Sep 7 '18 at 18:28

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