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Saturday, March 21, 2009

Ear to the Ground Series - "Flash in the Pan" - English Word history...

The Ear to the Ground series returns: "Flash in the Pan".

The original flash in the pan occurred in the flintlock gun. This was the old, unwieldy kind of musket used before the development of the percussion cap or cartridge. The charge that propelled the bullets, in those early days, was in the form of loose gunpowder, which was carefully measured and placed in the pan or flashpan of the gun, where it was ignited(or, all too often, failed to ignite) by a spark from the flint. Ifthe gunpowder was damp or in sufficient, it might fizzle flash rather than explode effectively.

The three related phrases are to hang fire, a damp squid, and lock, stock and barrel.

To hang fire is to delay, to put off one's decision, to wait and see. Originally, a flintlock gun was said to hang fire if it took a long time for the charge to ignite.

A damp squid, something that fails to live up to expectations, is, literally, a firecracker that hisses promisingly but through being damp fails to generate the climatic bang.

As for lock, stock and barrel, these are the three components of a musket or rifle: the barrel out in front, the stock - the heavy wooden handle or support - at the rear, and the lock - themechanism designed to explode the ammunition charge - in the middle. So to buy up a business lock, stock and barrel, for instance, has come to mean to buy the whole thing. Or as Australians would say, the whole kit and caboodle.

Hoped you liked this week's contribution.


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