A Language For Us!

Idioglossia For Gunners

Gotcha, huh? Had to look up “idioglossia”? That’s okay; I did too. Here’s how it began: I was visiting an old pal at his gun shop when a dude strolled in and Tom’s face squinched up like he was suckin’ a lemon. They obviously knew each other, but Tom wasn’t overjoyed to see the guy. The dude fumbled, trying to make conversation, and Tom was civil, even polite, but not exactly warm an’ fuzzy. When he left I barely heard Tom whisper under his breath, “Squib.”

I thought he’d said “squid,” a sorta uncomplimentary term for “sailor,” mostly used by jarheads like me. I found the pejorative particularly strange coming from a retired Navy CPO, so I asked. Tom was a little embarrassed he’d been heard.

“No, not ‘squid’,” he said, “Squib, with a ‘b’! You know, like a squib round; enough power to pop the round outta the case, but not enough to push it out the muzzle.”

They had served aboard ship together, on the same damage control team. The guy performed well during drills, but when the real thing happened, he didn’t just freeze up; he went into rigid, catatonic hysteria, blocking shipmates from accessing the DC gear compartment and becoming an emergency problem himself.

“So he’s a squib,” Tom said, “The worst kind of malfunction, where your gun’s not only out of action, but now you’ve got a round stuck in the bore. Nice guy, but a squib.”

Afterward I realized two things: First, I hadn’t heard anybody use the term “squib” in a long time, and not applied to a person in many more years. It had been in fairly common use when I was a kid. Second, I realized there are lots of firearm and shooting-related terms which used to be part of our American lexicon, but have now fallen into disuse. I think that’s sad — and serious.

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