Meanings: “Upshot”

August 24, 2013

I recently wrote up some minutes from a meeting and used the word “upshot” to refer to the conclusion reached after a long discussion. Another member of the committee noted that “upshot” has its origin in archery, and first recorded use (says the OED) is from 1531.

But how did we get from archery to a result or a conclusion? Here is Take Our Word For It on the etymology:


Have you heard of “scope creep”?  Well, what we have here is “definition creep”.  Originally upshot, first recorded in 1531, referred to the final shot in an archery match.  Then it came to figuratively refer to any “parting shot”.  By 1591 Edmund Spenser used it to mean “a mark or end aimed for” — still that archery connection.  At the same time the general meaning of “an end, conclusion, or termination” also arose.  Just a few years later, Shakespeare, in his Hamlet, used the word to mean “result, issue, or conclusion of some course of action”.  And in 1639, in a translation of Balzac’s Letters, the word is used to mean “the conclusion resulting from the premises of an argument”.  So, while the overall “conclusory” sense remains throughout, the meaning shifted from one of archery to one of arguments.


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).
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