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.

Our Gutted Glossary

Think about it: Not so long ago, a “doozy” was anything first-rate and classy; the best of its kind. That sprang from the nickname Americans gave the superlative Duesenberg automobiles of the 1920s and ‘30s — Duesie. The Duesenbergs are long gone, but “doozy” outlived ‘em by decades. The deep and profound relationship of free citizens and their firearms created many more.

A common American farewell used to be, “So long; keep your powder dry.” This referred, of course, to protecting your gunpowder from moisture; keeping your weapon primed and ready. Ultimately it came to simply mean being prepared and alert. A dull and useless doofus was a “dud,” derived from a dud round, one whose primer got spanked but failed to fire. An unstable person with a hot temper was said to have a “hair trigger,” and someone who behaved rashly was “goin’ off half-cocked.” Being told to “hold your fire” referred not just to refraining from shooting, but to speaking out of turn, interrupting others, or executing any kinds of actions not even remotely connected with shooting.

Today, how many Americans even know what “keep your powder dry” means, much less where it came from? The age of flintlocks may be over, but where did all of our gun-glossary sayings go? There are more citizen-owned guns than ever before, even if the percentage of gun owners may be lower than during our frontier days, so what’s causing this extinction? Perhaps examining one formerly well-used phrase can provide an answer.

For over a century, a person who could be counted on to always tell the truth was called a “straight shooter.” The expression was common across the social spectrum, including our political plutocracy. In fact, it was a politician’s golden moment if a working-class guy would say of him — on camera, of course — something like, “I’m votin’ for Farqmuggle, ‘cause he’s a straight shooter!”

If that happened today, what sort of mindless maelstrom might it prompt? Lefties, libs and lame-os would shrilly shriek it down, and the politico himself rush to a podium to assure the masses that “I am not now, nor have I ever been a … shooter! ” GunSpeak simply ain’t PC.

Bring Back The SQUIB!

I think it’s time to get gun-speak back into our national glossary, even if it’s our own idioglossary. We might remind some people of our armed origins. Or at least, we’ll have our own dialect. Either way, we win.

We know what it means to “stovepipe,” and it ain’t restricted to guns. A guy of whom you’d say, “range loads only,” or “no Plus-Ps” may be capable of muddling along, but can’t handle confrontation. To say somebody’s “Condition One” should be a high compliment, referring to their attitude and alertness as well as their ordnance. One who wanders around in Colonel Cooper’s “Condition White” is a clueless cretin. An aging gentleman said to be “worn shiny, 10 percent blue, but the lockwork’s crisp!” may be old, but still fully functional — and experienced. What kinda guy rates the phrase, “loose groups”?

Want to help? Send your suggestions to [email protected] I’ll gnarfle ‘em into order, and try not to malf or have a RUD.

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