Tuesday, October 31, 2023

Gun Metaphors in Everyday Language

By Elaine L. Orr

As a mystery writer, I have learned more about guns than I ever thought I would. I don't use them a lot in my books, because I write traditional or cozy mysteries. Murders are more often spur-of-the-moment action or are committed with items that could be in a household. Think fireplace poker or a shove down the stairs.

The other day I heard someone say, "Don't go off half-cocked," -- an expression my dad used. He was telling us not to jump to conclusions or act without thinking something through.

That led my mind to wander to the many gun-related expressions in American English.These metaphors crop up more often in a country that started with a revolution and then bore the scars of a civil war than, for example, in Canada, where the country was settled in a more orderly fashion. I'm not attaching a value judgment to either situation, it's simply a difference.

Here are a few expressions that come to mind quickly:

Don't shoot your mouth off -- advice to think before you speak.

Keep your powder dry -- be careful or look ahead

Shoot from the hip -- acting quickly, without thinking clearly

Big guns or big shots -- important people in a business or town

Set your sights on something -- establish a goal

Come under fire -- take criticism for an opinion or action

Take flak -- see come under fire

Dodge a bullet -- fortunate to avoid a problem or accident

Silver bullet -- an almost magic solution, as in there's no silver bullet 

to solving a plot problem in a novel.

Naturally, I'm not the first to put together such a list. When I was considering examples, I came across a National Public Radio transcript on the topic -- Gun Metaphors Deeply Embedded in English Language. It's worth a read if the topic interest you. Feel free to add more examples in the comments.

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To learn more about Elaine L. Orr, visit her website or sign up for her newsletter 

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