Meanings: “Gun”

May 12, 2012

As a kid, I was fascinated with guns, played often with toy guns.  The first picture could easily have been me and a friend.  And here’s my son, Robbie, age 9, with his collection of Nerf guns.  I talk with him all the time about the harm that real world guns do.  It doesn’t lessen the fascination, as it assuredly wouldn’t have for me.

Our first recorded use of the word “gun” is from 1339, the Chinese having invented gunpowder in the 9th century and firearms in the 12th.  Oddly (?) the word “gun” likely derives from a woman’s name. says:

gun (n.) Look up gun at
mid-14c., gunne “an engine of war that throws rocks, arrows or other missiles,” probably a shortening of woman’s name Gunilda, found in M.E. gonnilde “cannon” and in an Anglo-Latin reference to a specific gun from a 1330 munitions inventory of Windsor Castle (“…una magna balista de cornu quae Domina Gunilda …”), from O.N. Gunnhildr, woman’s name, from gunnr + hildr, both meaning “war, battle.” First element from PIE *gwhen- “to strike, kill” (see bane); for second, cf. Hilda. The identification of women with powerful weapons is common historically (cf. Big Bertha, Brown Bess, Mons Meg, etc.); meaning shifted with technology, from cannons to firearms as they developed 15c. Great guns (cannon, etc.) distinguished from small guns (such as muskets) from c.1400. Applied to pistols and revolvers after 1744.

We live in a world awash in guns, deadly guns, too many guns.  Here is another picture of boys with guns.  Are these are toy guns or real ones?  Here’s what the United Nations Office for Disarmament Affairs says about Small Arms, by which they mean what we commonly call guns:

The majority of conflict deaths are caused by the use of small arms, and civilian populations bear the brunt of armed conflict more than ever. Also, small arms are the dominant tools of criminal violence. The rate of firearms-related homicides in post-conflict societies often outnumbers battlefield deaths.


More human rights abuses are committed with small arms than with any other weapon. Furthermore, where the use of armed violence becomes a means for resolving grievances and conflicts, legal and peaceful dispute resolution suffers and the rule of law cannot be upheld.

How do we rid the world of our collective fascination with guns?



About Doug Bennett

Doug Bennett is Emeritus President and Professor of Politics at Earlham College. He has a wife, Ellen, and two sons, Tommy (born 1984) and Robbie (born 2003).
This entry was posted in Meanings. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s