My way or the highway
What's the meaning of the phrase 'My way or the highway'?
The idiom 'my way or the highway' forcefully expresses the view that 'you can take it or leave it'. In fact, it really means 'take it or leave', as the highway refers to the road the listener should go down if they don't agree with the speaker.
What is implied when the term is used by the boss in a work situation is that the employees are expected to agree to some proposal or 'hit the highway'. That is, no discussion is necessary or allowed - do it the boss's way or be fired.
What's the origin of the phrase 'My way or the highway'?
Who actually coined the expression 'my way or the highway'? No one knows, but it's dollars to donuts that it was an American.
Many parts of the English speaking world use 'road' rather than 'highway', which is why this phrase works best in the USA.
The idiom was coined in the USA sometime around the 1970s.
The earliest use of it that I can find is found in the Tampa Bay News, August 1974:
In the article the board is accused of having a 'my way or the highway' attitude that resulted in 'management of fear' policies.
It may well be that the expression was in popular use before 1974 and that earlier examples of it will be found.