I've compiled a list of expressions/collocations/sayings of one kind or another, even a name, that refer to obsolete arms technology. I'm sure the list, like all such lists, will grow:
- Broadside – all the cannon on one side of a fighting ship firing at once.
- Give no quarter – like take no prisoners (see below), but the expression 'give quarter' is itself archaic. Modern soldiers don't talk about 'giving quarter'.
- Flash in the pan – in a flint-lock, the trigger sparked off an explosion in a pan which itself set off the main explosion. Sometimes there was a flash in the pan, but the main charge was unaffected.
- Fletcher – the name of a medieval arms dealer (the person who added the feathers to arrows)
- Laden to the gunwales – see my recent post
- Lock stock and barrel – parts of an old gun
- Loose cannon – a danger in an operational gun-deck, when a cannon's recoil broke its tether
- On a short fuse – there are still fuses, but the expression (meaning short-tempered) dates from a time when many explosions were controlled by the length of a fuse
- Ordnance Survey maps – The original Ordnance Survey was carried out to support the use of ordnance in Scotland after the Jacobite Rebellion. See more here
- Ramrod – either ramrod-straight or straight/stiff as a ramrod. The ramrod was used in packing the charge in a muzzle-loading firearm
- Sally – walled towns often had a sally port, a small gate that allowed besieged forces to launch an informal attack
- Salvo – a slightly more modern form of broadside
- Shield – there are still shields in modern warfare, but they are generally not free-standing articles (except in the case of police controlling hostile crowds)
- Shoot from the hip – people can still do this, but when the idiom was first used metaphorically to mean 'shoot first and ask questions later' (there's another one) it referred to gun-fighters shooting as soon as a gun was out of its holster
- Take no prisoners – the taking of prisoners is still a feature of modern warfare, but the metaphorical usage (meaning 'be ruthless') dates from a time when prisoner-taking was hedged around with more gentlemanly conventions
- air cover – assistance from on high
- covering fire – a distracting attack while something else is happening
- give it to someone with both barrels – a reference to twin-barrelled shotguns
- have something in your sights – intending to attack
- out of a clear blue sky - of an unexpected attack (reference to fighter planes)
- Russian Roulette - a means of dicing with death. Now, it doesn't have to be death that you're dicing with. I remember in the '60s a line about 'Vatican Roulette' (5 aspirin pills and a contraceptive one [)]- it may have been on TW3)
- sawn-off – first used of a shotgun, adapted to do maximum damage at close range, but now used in other contexts to refer to any DIY reduction of anything.
- staring down the barrel of a gun – sure of something unfortunate
That's all for now. I'll update with a few more links when I return from my week in Wales but I've got to finish off the "-oo-" trawl before I go tomorrow.
Update 2013.08.23.21:15 Added this PS:
PS Five more from an afternoon's cricket commentary, one that I'm not sure about (the first) and one that relates to military strategy rather than hardware:
- To have a shot in your locker – maybe this has had an 'a' introduced to make it work for cricket...? I need to check.
- To shoot yourself in the foot
- To go off half-cocked
- To burn your boats/bridges – this refers to a miltary strategy that ensured that troops far from home would not think about going back
Yechy da, or whatever.
Update: 2015.01.20.19:30 ‐ and again; and added this admission:
<autobiographical_note date="30 Jan 1965" type="PS">
At the age of 13¼ I watched the state funeral of Sir Winston Churchill. And I remember Richard Dimbleby‘s commentary – especially the words ‘gun carriage‘. I knew what a gun was – my television-watching was restricted: my father had bought a black-and-white TV to watch the Coronation, but if I wanted to see ITV (or anything in colour) I had to sit on the floor in Archie‘s Room. Archie was my mother's very Scottish father, to whose insistence on a non-Catholic name for his new grandson I owe my name. But on The Lone Ranger I had seen hand-guns and rifles.
But I couldn't for the life of me see why that horse-drawn vehicle should be called a gun carriage. I was not aware in those days of the historical background, or of its importance in metaphor.Update: 2016.12.05.15:00 – Deleted obsolete footer.
Update: 2016.12.06.12:50 – Added PPS and added explanatory line in red.
PPS I just noticed another one to add to the first list:
- Hold the fort – Do the necessary for the defence of a fort, either alone or short-handed, while the main body of troops moves on to another field of activity (perhaps protecting refugee civilians).