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THE LAST WORD
Arms Heritage Magazine depends largely on the support of the collecting community, both through subscriptions and the purchase of our newly available Annuals and through the contribution of articles from our readership where we know there is an enormous store of experience and knowledge.
With this in mind, we thought it might be a good idea to discuss our guidelines for articles. Many potential contributors may be reluctant to submit articles because they are not comfortable with their writing ability. If this sounds familiar, don’t worry - as long as we can get good clear photographs and a sense of what you are trying to present we can craft the words to suit, and will provide an opportunity for you to review the words and meanings prior to publication.
Photographs should, where ever possible, be in color without any distracting backgrounds. We prefer digital images in pdf format but can work with clear conventional photos. We will have an article on photographic technique by Tom Rowe in a future issue.
Text is preferred in digital form in Word format. This saves us from having to retype everything and it is readily editable.
We don’t usually publish articles showing common guns with inscriptions, no matter how exotic. We feel that these are mostly of interest only to their owners.
One of the nice things about our digital format is that there is no limit to the size of the article, as evidenced by this month’s article by Charles Pate.
Occasionally we receive from our readers snippets of information germane to our mutual interests that are amusing, often whimsical, controversial or. . . well… downright informative. The following, submitted by Wayne Driskill, is such a piece and we reprint it here in the belief that we can all learn something new today that we didn’t know yesterday.
Why Do We Say That?
By Russ Corder, Brownells Copywriter
Most WebBench readers are fairly fluent in gun terminology, but how well do we know the origins of these words? Why is it called a “gun”? Where does the name “barrel” come from? Why do we measure bullet weight in grains? The answers are almost as fascinating as the history of guns.
Our word “gun” dates back to 1330 and a large ballista (massive crossbow) at Windsor Castle named “Lady Gunilda,” after Gunner, a mythical Valkyrie who carried fallen Viking warriors to Valhalla. After that, any engine of war that threw rocks and other missiles was known as a gonnilde. When artillery replaced siege engines, the term gonnilde was condensed to gunne and became generic for cannons. By the 15th Century, gunne was shortened to gun and referred to any firearm.
There is a strong argument that the word “pistol” is linked to Pistoia, Italy where some of the first shotguns were made. Pistol could also come from the Czech word for firearm, pistola. Others think it derives from pistallo, a French word referring to the saddle pommel, where pistols were usually carried. By the 16th Century, a more recognizable form of the word, pistole, was being used in France to describe a short firearm.
Actually, many gun terms have a strong French ancestry. Both cartridge and bullet come from 15th Century France. Cartridge is a corruption of cartouche meaning a full charge for a pistol, while bullet stems from boulette, a small cannonball. Rifle is also of French origin and comes from rifler, to scratch or groove. The practice of measuring powder and bullet weight in grains begins in 12th Century France and is based on the weight of a single grain of wheat. So a 500 grain bullet equals 500 grains of wheat.
“Lock, stock and barrel” is a common expression meaning all or everything. While there are various theories regarding the source of this phrase, most etymologists (people who study the history and origins of words) tie it directly to early firearms. With the lock, stock and barrel, a person had a complete gun. Etymologists do not agree when this phrase first appears, but it was sometime between 1752 and 1817
Two schools of thought exist on why early firing mechanisms were called locks. One theory claims early gun makers hired locksmiths to make and assemble the firing mechanisms because of their skill with small moving parts. A similar account says the name comes from the moving parts of firing mechanisms resembling early locking devices.
The word stock, or stoke, evolved from the Germanic word for a tree trunk. The first mention of gun stocks appears in 1495 when Henry VII’s army requested “gonne stokes.” These early stocks were wooden rods soldiers inserted into a socket on their hand cannons, or handgonnes, for a handle or brace.
Etymologists agree the word barrel in the firearm context derives from cannons. Some early cannons were built with metal staves and reinforced by hoops, causing them to look like barrels, hence the name.
If something has little chance of success it is said to be a long shot. This phrase is directly related to guns, although there is disagreement if its origins are naval or land based. In either case, it referred to the limited long range accuracy of early guns. If you had to make a long range shot, odds were against you being successful.
Something, or someone, that starts strong, then quickly fails is known as a flash in the pan. This is a direct linkage to early flintlocks. To prime a flintlock, a small amount of powder is placed in the pan and when the flint strikes the frizzen it sends a shower of sparks into the pan, the resulting flash ignites the main charge. However, if the powder in the pan ignites but fails to set off the main charge, it’s referred to as a flash in the pan.
If someone acts or speaks impulsively, we say they have gone off halfcocked. This phrase can also trace its origins back to flintlocks. After loading and priming a flintlock, the hammer would be put on half cock, essentially a safety. However, if the sear was worn or damaged, it could release the trigger prematurely and result in the weapon going off at half cock. The phrase first appeared in England during the mid-1700’s.
When we say “the whole nine yards,” it means either we took all of something or a lot was given. Etymologists argue to its true source. Although many say it is related to fabric or sailing ships, some see a link to guns. During World War II, ammunition belts on fighter planes were alleged to be 27 feet long. So if the pilot emptied his guns into an enemy plane, he was said to have “given the whole nine yards.”
Telling someone to “give it the gun” or “gun it” appears to originate with WWII fighter pilots. Speed and elevation were vital in attacking an enemy plane. Pilots would rev their engines as they dived on an enemy, while at the same time opening fire. So to accelerate in was equivalent to opening fire, or giving him the guns.
As you can see, the origin of gun related words is almost as long and complicated as the development of firearms themselves. But with this brief study in etymology, you can impress your friends with your knowledge of gun history and terminology . . . lock, stock and barrel!