"son of a gun"

Fred Shapiro fred.shapiro at YALE.EDU
Mon Jan 22 01:21:33 UTC 2001

yOn Sun, 21 Jan 2001, Gerald Cohen wrote:

>      Actually, I believe Cassell (which I do not have before me) is on
> the right track. "Gun" besides referring to a firearm, was also a
> cant term for "thief," at least in the 19th century. For example, one
> can read about "the guns and their molls," i.e., the thieves and
> their women/wives. And this "gun" is known to derive from Yiddish
> "gonnof" (thief).  Both "gun" (thief) and "gonnof" were present in
> British cant.

Then why is "son of a gun" attested 150 years before this usage of "gun"?
Was English influenced by Yiddish in 1700?

Fred Shapiro

Fred R. Shapiro                             Editor
Associate Librarian for Public Services     YALE DICTIONARY OF QUOTATIONS
  and Lecturer in Legal Research            Yale University Press,
Yale Law School                             forthcoming
e-mail: fred.shapiro at yale.edu               http://quotationdictionary.com

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