Sunday, December 27, 2020

The Origins of Gun Terms

The English language is made up of words from every corner of the globe. There are several reasons for this. Starting with many invasions of Britannia by the Norsemen, the Romans and of course the Battle of Hastings in 1066 which brought many French words to the lexicon. Later with the rise of the British Empire, the British colonists brought back words and traditions that also changed the language.
Then you have the rise of the United States which has had an increasingly global presence since the the late 1800s.

I thought it might be interesting to explore the terms we use in the gun world, discover where they came from, what their original meaning was and how they came to be applied to firearms. I discovered some interesting facts....enjoy


We'll start with the term "musket". While the actual origin is debated, like many words in English, it comes from other Latin languages. The French word mousquette, was the name for a male Sparrow Hawk. Due to its suffix ette I assumed it meant "small mousqu", but mousquee in French is an Islamic Chruch....
This word could have originated with the Italians though, as they used the word moschetto for the bolt (arrow) used in a crossbow. The word moschetto was derived from the Italian word for fly: mosca.

The shorter version of the musket was known as a "Mustektoon".
The word was first applied to firearms in Europe circa 1499. The word went out of usage when smoothbore muskets were replaced by rifled muskets and eventually the word rifle took over.


The word rifle comes from the series of grooves in a barrel designed to give the bullet a twist, which stabilizes its flight. The concept goes back to the archers of the 15th century who learned that giving a twist to the tail feathers of an arrow made it more accurate. When firearms and bullets came along, the concept was applied and was found to stabilize the flight of the bullet resulting in an increase in accuracy/precision as well as provide greater range.
The word for the practice of rifling a barrel probably came later, as it wasn't used to describe the process until the mid-1600s (150 years or so after rifled barrels first appeared). The word comes from the French word rifler which means to graze or scratch and has older usage in Old High German in the word riffilon and the Old Norse rifa both of which meant to tear, break or peel off.


While the modern definition is a rifle with a barrel length of 20 inches or less, it wasn't always that way.
In the early days of long arms rifled muskets often had really long barrels, for instance the Springfield Rifled Musket model of 1861 had barrel of 40 inches, ridiculous by todays standards.
The idea of a short rifle or musket can be traced back to the German Jaeger rifle (Jaeger means hunter in German). The shorter guns were thought ideal in heavy wooded areas where a longer gun would be clumsy.

One of the first military guns to wear the moniker of "Carbine" was another German arm: the Karbiner 98a, which had a barrel length of 23.62 inches. As manufacturing, bullets and gun powder improved the need for a longer barrel waned. Somewhere along the way the line was drawn at 20". More than 20" of barrel = rifle, at or less than 20" = carbine.

The term originated with the French. It comes from the old French word carabin, which simply meant solider with a rifle. Some speculate that the word originated with the medieval Latin calabrinus, which referred to weapons made in the Italian town of Calabria. Another possibility is the word originated from the Greek word escarrabin which is the name for the Scarab Beetle, not sure where the connection is, but the word is similar. 


The word pistol first hit the English language around 1570, before that it was a French word pistolet. It is believed the word originated with the Czech. The Czech word for a pipe or whistle was pis'tala. When looked at from the side, the early pistols did look like an inverted whistle or pipe. The application of this word for a handheld firearm dates back to the 1420s.
Today it is used to describe a semi-automatic handgun, but in reality all handguns are pistols....even revolvers. The term is simply another word to describe a handgun.


The Blunderbuss was an early rendition of a shotgun. The barrel was short and heavily flared at the end to spread the pattern out, this limited its range, regulating it to defensive use.
The Blunderbuss was/is loaded from the muzzle and used more than just lead shot as the projectile. It was common for rocks, gravel, sand, bits of iron or anything else that was heavy and could inflict damage to be stuffed down the barrel.
The word comes from the Dutch, combining the word for thunder: donder and the word for pipe: bus....thus the Donderbus or Blunderbuss was a "Thunderpipe". As with many words the transition to English changed the spelling and pronunciation.


Long before the revolver came along, the term "Dragon" was used to describe a blunderbuss pistol. The Dragon was basically a handheld shotgun. Called a Dragon for the flames it belched from its short barrel and because many early examples were decorated to look like a dragon. It is possible the word came from the early Dutch or German word tragen or dragen respectively, the word(s) mean "to carry", which fits, as it was applied to horse mounted troops who carried pistols.
One last possibility is that it comes from the Latin draconarius which was a signifier (color guard), carrying a flag or symbol letting others know which military unit followed in battle. Most likely these men would be outfitted with hand guns as they would only have one hand available while the other held the flag.

The term began to be used for cavalry soldiers in the 1600s due to the "dragon" pistols they carried which were easier to fire while on horseback than a musket. 
How the word Dragon became Dragoon is anyone's guess....

A Colt model of 1858 "Dragoon" 


The word magazine comes from the middle French word magasin for warehouse or place for storing goods, even farther back is the Italian word magazinno, which could have originated with the Arabic word makhzan which also meant "storehouse", probably brought to Italy during the Hannibal's invasion in 219 B.C.. This was first applied to rifles and gun powder storage facilities in the mid-1800s and later to ammunition storage depots once metallic cartridges entered the scene.


The word bullet comes from the French word for "small ball", boulette.  Cannonballs were called boule, which is French for ball, the addition of the suffix "ette" to a French word means a smaller version of, much like a Cigarette is to a Cigar.
The French word boule does have older origins, the Latin word is bulla and Old Norse and Old German have similar words. Farther back the Greek word for ball is bala.
The word bullet first appeared in the English lexicon in the late 1500's.


The word ammunition goes all the way back to the Latin word munitionem, which means "to fortify". The word made its way to French as munition. Somewhere along the way, French soldiers began shortening la munition to l'amuntion or just amunition. The word was used loosely to describe anything used in the defense of a position, including the supply of cartridges. Eventually the word got a more refined definition as ammunition in English.


The word Shoot comes to English most likely from the Proto-Germanic word skeutanan. There are similar words in Old Saxon: skiotan, Old Norse: skjota and Old Frisian: skiata. All of these words meant to push, or shove quickly. There was no equivalent in Latin or Greek, the word evolved as the Latin based languages evolved.


The word recoil came to English from the Old French word recule, but had its origins in the Latin reculare. The root Latin word being culo, meaning backside (your arse), the prefix re meant back, so reculo may have originally meant "to fall on your ass" or perhaps "retreat to your back position?". At any rate the word was first applied to firearms in the 1300's.


The word breech comes from Old German, Old Norse or Old Dutch, originally meaning to break into two parts and referred to the lower half or the legs of a person (this is where we got the word britches from to describe pants). It also meant "break into" as in breaking down a door.
It began being used on guns in 1700s to describe the lower end of the barrel (remember all guns were muzzle loaded back then, so the upper end would be the muzzle, the lower end the breech).  Later when breech loading guns came onto the seen, the use of the word seemed more appropriate as you had to break open the breech to insert or remove a cartridge.


Nearly all guns have a bolt, but we most often think of bolts being associated with "bolt action rifles". The term bolt comes from the old Germanic languages, old Norse bolti, Danish bolt, Dutch bout and German bolzen. All possibly derived from the Latin telum, but more likely it came from the Greek word bouloni. The word bouloni was used by the Greeks to describe the shorter arrow used in crossbows and probably came to use shortly after the crossbow showed up in Europe (Greece) in the 4th century B.C., most likely from China. It came to be used in firearms with the invention of the bolt action rifle in the mid-late 1800s. I can imagine the bolt being inserted into the rifle looked much like the inserting of a bolt into a crossbow.


The word stock has many origins, Old Norse, German, Saxon, Dutch, in all of these languages the word stoc or stuk meant a tree trunk, stump, stick or piece of wood. It began being applied to guns in the 1500s.


This one is easy. A muzzle is another word for snout, used to describe an animals mouth and nose. When firearms came along it made sense to call the business end the muzzle.


Of course we all know what the non-gun barrel is, but the word cask was also used for that description. The English version of the word probably came from the old French word baril, but similar words existed in old Spanish barril and old Italian barile, yet the word did not exist in Latin, so I did some more digging and found the Mongolian word for barrel is barryeli ni. It is possible the word was brought to the west by the Mongolian hoards.  It was first applied to guns in the 1600s.


The trigger, as if you didn't know, is the lever pulled to initiate the firing of the gun. The word originated with the Dutch word trekken which means "to pull", as with many words added to English it was changed to "trigger" along the way.

Hammer / Cock 

I put these two together and they share the same origins. 
The word cock comes from a variety of sources, the Greek kikkos, the Sanskrit kukkuta or the Malay kukuk. This suggests the word for the male fowl may have a much older, common ancestor.

The word was first applied to fire arms when the matchlock musket evolved into the flintlock. 
When the matchlock was invented. The "S" shaped piece that held the match was usually referred to as a Serpent or Serpentine. When the flintlock came around the serpent was given a clamp to hold the flint which made it resemble the head of a rooster, at that point people began referring to it as a "cock".  Later when the percussion cap came along, the cock was now a hammer in both form and function, but the action of pulling back on the hammer was still referred to as "cocking" the gun.
The word hammer comes from the old Dutch, German and Norse word for stone, as the first hammers were made of stone.


The term magnum was in use before it was applied to firearms by the wine and champagne industry since circa 1788 to describe a 2 quart (1.5 liters) bottle.
The word has its origins in Latin, meaning larger, more powerful, more valuable or more important. Derived from Magnus which means great.
First applied to the .357 Magnum, introduced in 1935 as a longer and more powerful version of the .38 Special.


The name Derringer (also sometimes spelled with one r) comes from an actual gun maker Henry Deringer who introduced a short barreled percussion pistol in 1825. He marked the side of the lock with the word's "Philadelphia Deringer". I am not sure if that was the model name or if it was just letting people know by whom and where the gun was made. Nevertheless, the name began to be applied to other small single and even double barreled pistols.

This original Philadelphia Deringer was used to assassinate President Abraham Lincoln

A Remington model 95 "Derringer"


The word Lock could have several origins. There was an old German word lukana which meant to close, the old Norse lok which meant to fasten and the old Dutch luik which meant shutter or trap door.
Whatever the origin, it was applied to guns when the Wheellock and Flintlock rifles were invented. It refers to the plate upon which the cock, sear and spring were mounted. 
The phrase "Lock, Stock & Barrel" began to be used in the 18th century. Early on in America a person wanting a rifle would need to visit three craftsmen to get the parts needed. A blacksmith who made the lock, a barrel maker for the barrel and a stock maker for the wood stock. Gunsmiths who had onsite craftsmen trained in all three would advertise "Lock, Stock and Barrel" on their shingles, letting customers know they were a "one stop shop"


The word Bayonet as you might expect comes from the French. The French spelling was baionnette, which probably means "little sword" and comes from the city of Bayonne, in Gascony (SW France) where the knives, designed to be attached to gun barrels, were first made in the early 1600s.


The definition of a "bullpup" is a rifle (or more often a carbine) with the action sitting behind the trigger (in the area normally occupied by the buttstock). The construction provides for a much shorter over-all length.
The origin of the name is believed to have come from the British military of the 1930s. The Limeys thought the abbreviated length of the rifles barrel reminded them of British Bulldog puppies.

The first British "bullpup" rifle the EM-2

Buntline Special

The commonly accepted definition of a "Buntline Special" is a revolver (most often single action) with a barrel length of 8" or more.
In the early days of revolvers The Colt revolvers with the longest barrels were the Calvary models (7.5" barrel). Anything longer was considered unique.
How the name "Buntline" came into use is quite a story. It goes back to the 1930s when a biographer names Stuart Lake decided to write the biography of Wyatt Earp (who died a year earlier). In the book Wyatt Earp: Frontier Marshal, he described the gun used by Wyatt in the famous Shootout at the OK Corral as being a Colt model of 1873 with a 12" barrel, he went on further to explain this gun was purchased by dime novel author Ned Buntline and given as gifts to several old west lawmen including Earp, but this was pure fiction.
There were two problems with that story. The first one is that Buntline never ordered or gave away any guns, the second is that Colt didn't offer a 12" barrel as standard model until the 1950s. 
Historical records indicate that Wyatt did use a long barreled revolver at the shootout, but it was not a Colt and it was not given to him by Buntline. It was an 8" barreled S&W model 3 given to him by John Clum the then Mayor of Tombstone and owner of one of the towns newspapers. Apparently Lake heard about the gift of the long barreled revolver but not knowing what model or who gifted it he simply filled in the blanks. Hollywood took it as the gospel and every depiction of Earp on screen included a long barreled Colt SAA. So when Colt reintroduced the SAA in 1956, the catalog included a "Buntline Special". Read more about the story here.

The S&W model 3 with an 8" barrel, the original Buntline Special (perhaps we should rename this model the "Clum Special"?).

Kentucky Windage

In the early days of rifle shooting in America, the Kentucky rifle was king. The gun was a simple, accurate and dependable single shot, muzzle loading, black powder rifle. Although it originated in Pennsylvania, and was technically the American Long Rifle, it got the nick name Kentucky Rifle and it stuck.
The sights on these early rifles were either not adjustable at all or not easily adjustable for windage (side to side). This meant that a shooter attempting to hit a target when a cross wind was present would need to aim to the left or right of the target (whichever direction the wind was coming from) to compensate. This became known as "Kentucky Windage".


The term accuracy is often misapplied in the world of firearms. Strictly speaking an accurate gun is one that will hit what it is aimed at. Precision is being able to hit the same spot every time, not necessarily what you are aiming at. This is why sights were invented, so that point of aim and point of impact could be matched.
So you may very well have a gun that is accurate, but not precise or precise but not accurate. The goal is to have both. The word came into usage in the 1600s and comes from the Latin accuraratus, which is a combination of ac which meant "to" and curare which meant "care for".  
Here is a chart to help explain accuracy and precision:

Dope/Dope Bag

When most people hear the term "dope bag" they think of a sack containing illicit drugs, but to a rifle shooter it could mean something else entirely.
Since 1921 American Rifleman magazine has had a reoccurring section named "Dope Bag". According to most sources this term in shooting is actually an acronym D.O.P.E. which is Data Of (or On) Previous Engagement. Long distance shooters and sniper teams record this data on previous shots to assist with the adjustment of the telescopic sight, this is also referred to as "zeroing in", "doping your shot" or "doping the wind".
The "Dope bag" is the bag in which you keep ammo, tools or the booklet used to record the data.


The term "sniper" or "to snipe" comes from the British soldiers in India. A person who could shoot a bird known as the Snipe, possessed special shooting acumen as the bird was very difficult to hit due to its natural camouflage, its alertness and un-predictable flight patterns.
The term began to be used for a marksmen shooting from cover in the 1820s.

The Snipe:

Sharp Shooter

This one surprised me, I had always thought the term referred to Civil War soldiers shooting a rifle produced by Christian Sharps. The term actually predates the Civil War by sixty years.
The British Military used the term to describe rifle shooters whose skills had been "sharpened" by practice. "Sharpened" referring to the blade of a knife, when precisely honed was near perfect as was the shooting of a "Sharp Shooter".


While Camouflage is not a specific gun term, it does apply here as it was invented for war. The word, as you might have guessed is French. The modern word is actually a combination of an Italian slang word camufarre, which means to disguise and the old French camouflet, which means to blow smoke in someone's face (to obscure their vision). The word's origin could be in Latin as the phrase for blow smoke is ictu fumi. The word came to prominent use during the Great War. 
The word is often misspelled as "camoflage" or "camelflage".


Sheriff is another term that is not a specific gun term, but does apply here as Sheriffs have traditionally used weapons to enforce laws and keep the peace. 
In Great Britain a county is called a shire, usually named for the largest city in the shire and acted as the seat of government for the Shire...examples are Worcestershire, Yorkshire and Leicestershire. The Constable in charge of enforcing laws was once known as a Reeve, if you combine the two words you get shirereeve, which eventually became the word sheriff.  
The words have their origins in Old English and Old Norse as the words scir (shire) and gerefa (reeve).
When district governments were set up in North America for some reason we used a modern version of the Latin word Comitatus (county), but kept the word Sheriff. In North America a Sheriff almost always works for a county so using the phrase "county sheriff" is redundant.
For the record, Reno 911's fictional police department "Reno Sheriff's Dept." does not exist, Reno Nevada is in Washoe County...There is however a Reno County in Kansas, but that is not these guys...


The word Ballistics was easy to trace, it dates back to the Ballista, a Greek weapon used to hurl stones, at first as a catapult type device and later a large crossbow type device. It stems from the Greek word ballo, which means to throw. It first appeared circa 400 B.C.

It is pretty easy to see how the ranging and targeting of a Ballista became "ballistics" and was carried over to firearms.

Point Blank Range

We hear it on the news all the time...the man was shot at "point blank range". 
The data extrapolated from shootings tells us that most shootings happen within what is known as "bad breath distance" (ten feet or less), this is what the newscasters are trying to convey.
It is universally known that newscasters can't tell shit from Shinola and this leads to a lot of misunderstanding. So let's get down to brass tacks.....
The origin of the term comes from the 17th century French phrase "pointe de blanc" which translates "point at the white". Gun & archery targets at the time had white bullseyes. It meant that you were close enough to the target to aim at the white bullseye without having to compensate for bullet/arrow drop. 
So in the case of a 30-06 Springfield the "point blank range" could be 300 yards away. If shooting a .22 Long Rifle (the most common caliber used in shootings in the U.S.) the point blank range could be as far away as 100 yards, of course the shooter in both cases could be closer, which is why the term is effectively meaningless to describe a shooting.

For the record...this is Shinola:

Etymology Online

Tuesday, December 22, 2020

The Golden Poop Awards: Gun Advertising

Welcome back to another edition of the Golden Poop Awards. The candidates this time are vying for the coveted Golden Poop in the category of Gun Advertising

Brought to you by:
The New Coke, "America's taste just got better" or "It's a Coke that tastes like Pepsi, only it's Coke!"

Under Armor, "stealing glory since 1996"

and Yugo, "everybody needs a Yugo sometime"

The nominees in the category "Best use of a pun in a gun ad" are:



The Nominees for the worst celebrity endorsement are:

HS Precision Inc 

Hey, I got an idea....let's use a Psychopathic Federal Agent who kills unarmed women and children to sell our product....


"Champion Pistol Shooter"....yet doesn't know the 3rd Rule of Gun Safety......

The most irresponsible gun ad nominees are:

Harrington & Richardson

A child running around shooting a gun into the air when a crowd is present?? WTF?

Iver Johnson

Umm no, just no

Colt's Patent Fire Arms Co.

In the "WTF were you thinking?" category we have the following nominees:

European American Armory

This needs no comment



Pro Tip, never use the name of an infamous, failed government sting operation that ended with the deaths of government agents as a tag line.

 and....European American Armory


The nominees for "We don't know our own product" we have the following:


A company that sells products to help you shoot straight...has their shit backwards...

 Heckler & Koch

We would hope that their gun QC program is better than their advertisement QC program

Odejewscy Shooting Range in Poland

This is beyond ignorant....

Colt's Patent Fire Arms Co.

Maybe someone should have told him the sight was built into the back of the handle.....Was this the first instance of "Spray & Pray"?

For the Best use of a meat product in a gun ad, we have the following nominees:

Smith & Wesson 


In the Best use of a Porn Stash, the contenders are:

 Universal Firearms

Smith & Wesson

In the Best use of Sex to sell a gun category, the nominees are:


OK question: Why would a cowboy be interested in a woman with the body of a 13 year old boy? Also your nipple is their defense, it was the 70's....a different time...

European American Armory

The ads produced by these guys are almost as bad as their guns.... that's a joke, but then again so is this ad...


I don't really have a comment on this one.....


Here we are again, Cowgirls back in the day dressed like men for a couple of reasons, one to be taken seriously and two to prevent unwanted sexual advances....Also cowgirls would keep the boobs strapped down, the trail can be hard on the ta tas

Friday, December 18, 2020

AK Magazine Rehab

 Continuing our month of magazines, I have another magazine rehab, this one a rusty AK mag. 

I don't remember where I got this magazine from, I think someone gave it to me.....anyway, it was rusty and in need of rebluing or painting.

I decided to try my hand at the sponge camo painting technique.

First step is disassembly

Then I removed the rust with my wire wheel

Then I painted a base coat of OD Green

Once the paint was dry I added some small mylar Punisher stickers

Then I sprayed a couple of swaths of Desert Tan

Then I got out the Dirt Brown, Foliage Green, Nutmeg and Black and began dabbing the paint on with a piece of a sponge

Once dried, I removed the Punisher stickers

Then reassembled the magazine.

Before and after shots

On to the next project!