I'm currently reading "The Prince and the Pauper" by Mark Twain and have come across the phrase "Give somebody the road". Does it mean "let someone pass by you in the street without paying any attention to him?" Below is the extract:

After a while the weather grew milder, and the clouds lifted somewhat. The troop ceased to shiver, and their spirits began to improve. They grew more and more cheerful, and finally began to chaff each other and insult passengers along the highway. This showed that they were awaking to an appreciation of life and its joys once more. The dread in which their sort was held was apparent in the fact that everybody gave them the road, and took their ribald insolences meekly, without venturing to talk back. They snatched linen from the hedges, occasionally in full view of the owners, who made no protest, but only seemed grateful that they did not take the hedges, too.

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    I think its meaning is close to that of “give way (to somebody)”, either literally or figuratively; i.e., if “everybody gave them the road” then they allowed the troop to go first and moved out of their way... or everybody agreed to whatever the troop said or wanted. However, “paying attention” is optional, the phrase doesn't imply anything like that.
    – user3395
    May 14, 2016 at 17:45

2 Answers 2


everybody gave them the road, and took their ribald insolences meekly, without venturing to talk back

Gave them the road is not an expression that native speakers of my part of the U.S. would say, so it seems outdated. As a speaker of 20th-21st century English I would interpret it to mean something like

everybody yielded them the right of way

which means, everybody got out of their way and let them pass by or whatever.

There is idiom in Cassell's Dictionary of Slang give someone the road meaning to avoid, to ignore and another entry for the same ohrase that is an alternate version of give someone the bag. When you look at that one (p. 603), none of the definitions really fit. The date given for the first entry (avoid, ignore) is 1910s+, which is weird, since Twain published P&P about 1880.

I am not sure how well ignore or avoid fits here, since the passengers also took their ribald insolences meekly, without venturing to talk back. Maybe one of the things they did was to avoid or ignore them. This definition seems to fit, and again the phrase give someone the road is not used today in my experience. But avoid can have a meaning of yield someone the right of way.

Whatever it means, it means to try to stay out of their way. Sometimes native speakers have to guess too.


Let's say you are driving down the freeway, and another driver is swerving into all the lanes. So that you don't get hit by this guy, you would

give them the road

meaning that you won't get in their way or try to stop what they are doing (that would be dangerous).
This could apply to traffic on any roads, even centuries ago (say you are on a footpath and some evil or dangerous guy comes along). You would probably not challenge him.

This type of situation could be applied idiomatically to other situations with a corresponding intent (not to challenge something).

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