"My way or the highway" is an expression from words in a song. This line means: "Do it my way or I'm out of here – I'll be (or maybe you'll be) on the highway, but we won't be negotiating or accommodating to each other." It refers to the words of a person who barges ahead, carrying out only his/her agenda, with no regard for another's. It doesn't matter to the perpetrator what the other's needs or wishes are.
The words are from a rap song and are really too tasteless to appear on this website. Look for "My way or the highway" on Yahoo or Google and you'll come up with many hits.
The song apparently has served as a basis for a parody for those who don't like the politics and "my way is the highway" attitude of George Bush.
After a little research on the web, it looks like "My Way or the Highway" is either the title of or a lyric from a country music song, before it was ever in a rap song. I remember the expression was used a lot in management training in the mid-1990s.
In a 1994 Life Magazine interview with Johnny Cash, he talks about the arguments that went on about who would be on his TV show: "There was grumbling, there were heads huddled, and finally I had to say, 'It's either my way or the highway. I'm gone.' So they went for it." So the expression has been around at least since 1994.
I think it originally came from country music and then made its way into wider use. It especially became part of the business jargon of the 1990s -- as an example of "how not to do things."
The anti-Bush parody song using that phrase is actually a parody of the song "Rockin' Down the Highway," (there's a website that lists all the anti-Bush songs and parodies) so I'm not sure you can say that the rap song was the source of the parody.
This expression has been around since at least the seventies--long before the advent of rap. The context in which I first began hearing the expression was in relation to parenting styles, as in an authoritarian parent giving his teenager a choice: "(Either do it) my way or (hit) the highway" (follow my rules or you'll no longer be housed under my roof).
This is a notably different application than is reflected in Barry's response. I've never heard the phrase framed wherein its deliverer is threatening to part company if his/her demands aren't met, as in the context attributed to Johnny Cash.
Perhaps the difference might appear to be two sides of the same coin; however, coming to agreement as to its actual meaning could mean the difference between who gets to stay and who comes home to find the locks changed and their belongings strewn over the front lawn. Ultimatums tend to go that way.
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