Monday, April 21, 2014

Loaded Language: The Gun Metaphors that Pervade our Everyday Slang

The Washington Post

Sometimes it’s the offhand remark that’s the most telling. Indeed, the way we Americans casually, often unthinkingly, incorporate gun metaphors into our everyday slang says a lot about how deeply embedded guns are in our culture and our politics, and how difficult it is to control or extract them. Consider this list, presented as bullet points — which are themselves so conventional, so central to the typography of mind-numbing PowerPoint presentations, that you can forget what their shape represents.
● Bite the bullet: Meaning to power through something unpleasant, the term comes from the practice of providing wounded soldiers a bullet to clench their teeth on while they underwent surgery without anesthetic. British writer Rudyard Kipling is thought to have been the first to use the expression figuratively. His 1891 novel “The Light That Failed”includes this line: “Bite on the bullet, old man, and don’t let them think you’re afraid.” These days, people are more likely to bite the bullet if they have to accept an unpleasant truth. And politicians are often urged to bite the bullet and compromise — suggesting that coming together to pass legislation is as painful as amputation while fully sentient.


  1. I'll take a shot at making a comment, hoping I don't shoot myself in the foot, thereby staying out of the line of fire of assorted trolls that frequent this place.
    Another metaphor not mentioned was the term sharpshooting, the act of only providing negative feedback in discussions without providing solutions, which results in absolutely nothing useful coming from that person. Something we see here on occasion.

  2. That's hardly all. Lock, stock, and barrel refers to the parts of a firearm, and drop the hammer and hair trigger should be obvious.

  3. Miss the mark, go off half-cocked, that's a long shot, flash in the pan, keep your powder dry, get the lead out, ramming it home, quick draw, and many more

  4. Wow, does the Washington Post really expect us to excise every gun related term from use? I pity future English students.

    1. The thinking is that you shouldn't be allowed to use such icky language.

    2. I didn't get that from the article.

      How about "son of a gun." Does that count?

    3. Mike, I got it from the end: "We should be watchful that, while we argue in the front yard about gun-control laws today, the metaphors associated with gun use don’t sneak through the back door."

      Sounds like one of my English Comp teachers who insisted on 100% perfect gender neutrality in papers and assigned us 3 or 4 reading assignments in the first week which consisted of papers by other English professors going on about how using gender specific words perpetuated sexism just by being used. They then went on arguing at length about the propriety of using him or her, or him/her, or merely breaking the convention on number agreement and using them as a gender neutral term. What lovely navel gazing to have to read and be quizzed on when I could have been doing something else.

      God help future students if this author's ideas gain traction. They'll be stuck having to try to eliminate common phrases that might have anything to do with guns as phrases that perpetuate violence.

      I'd like to say nobody will give this guy's notion the time of day, but I've seen enough wackiness that it's not a sure bet.

    4. Such wimpy language will never be required in any class I teach or manuscript I edit.

  5. How about "I got shotgun!", meaning I'm riding in the passenger seat.