Tuesday, November 20, 2012


Someone asked about the word shotgun. It’s a smooth-bore gun used for firing small shot, as distinguished from a rifle, which has grooves in the barrel and fires a bullet. The shotgun sacrifices accuracy and distance in favor of scatter and close-up coverage.

The word gun is at the core, and there are many kinds: pop-gun, machine gun, BB gun, handgun, blow gun, air gun, burp gun, flare gun, ray gun, stun gun, and so on.

Professor Skeat (A Concise Dictionary of Middle English) suggested that the word ultimately may have come from the name of an ancient Scandinavian goddess, Gunilda. The name meant war.

Shotgun shows up in many phrases, a few of which are mentioned here.

  • shotgun formation: in football, an offensive formation in which the quarterback sets four or five yards behind the center with the other backfield men split out as flankers. It’s designed to send out as many pass receivers as possible while the QB has more time to throw the ball.
  • shotgun wedding: the father of the pregnant bride forces the wedding with a shotgun.
  • shotgun microphone: a highly directional microphone with a long barrel that is pointed at a distant source of sound.
  • shotgun prescription: medical slang for a prescription containing a great number of drugs of various properties.
  • ride shotgun: stagecoach guards rode shotgun—next to the driver. The term is a relatively modern addition indebted to movies and TV shows. It doesn’t seem to have been used in the heyday of coaches. Children with siblings will “call shotgun” when going for a car ride, meaning "I get to ride in the front passenger seat where the view is less restricted."

Available from McFarland & Co.: Word Parts Dictionary, 2nd edition

Nook edition
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