Recently in a different context I was presented with something like this:

[When something big happens], you'll see them all run for cover.

At first I thought this was very idiomatic, but when I looked at the well known idioms I couldn't find exactly run for cover(sure it's about running to the place of safety, but isn't that place usually not the shelter more than the cover?) - what I found was take cover, run for it/for one's life and try to cover one's ass.

Do the idioms compete or interfere with what is being said here? Does the native speaker get a mishmash of two or more idioms or just the literal meaning because it's neither exactly? Are there any negative connotations in the provided example - does "all" provide any clue into that; is any context obvious, such as that of the fleeing civilians, or the business management setting?

  • I don't think there is so much difference between cover and shelter. My guess is that "run for cover" has more of a military background.
    – user3169
    Feb 13, 2015 at 3:54

2 Answers 2


“Run for cover” is a standard idiom (“Cover” in this phrase is shelter from falling or flying objects), and it appears appropriate in the context.

It might be a little figurative for a business communication, but it makes perfect sense after “When the s-t hits the fan”

I think most native English speakers will understand the full sentence as:

“When something bad happens, you will see them panic”

  • 2
    I think "panic" is an extremely loose "translation" here. Those people who (figuratively) run for cover/shelter might be doing so in a cool, calm, and collected fashion (albeit with some haste, so their exit probably couldn't be called leisurely). Feb 13, 2015 at 14:54

"Run for cover" is a common phrase that can be used in various different environments, but it generally carries the same meaning — to find some stable object to use to protect oneself quickly.

In the literal sense, it means to find a stable object (such as a desk or other form of shelter) that one can hide behind or under as a means of protection (from falling debris or throw objects, for example). In a more figurative sense, it means to find something that will protect you from whatever chaos is about to ensue.

I believe it originates from a military term, in which one literally sprints to a large rock or similar object to protect oneself from an explosion or its flying debris, the idea being that the object will block the blast and protect anyone behind it.

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