"son of a gun"

Gerald Cohen gcohen at UMR.EDU
Mon Jan 22 02:23:39 UTC 2001

   Whoops. Fred Shapiro correctly points to a chronological
discrepancy in what I said about "gun" in "son of a gun" deriving
from British cant "gun" (thief).
A check of Eric Partridge's _A Dictionary of the Underworld_ shows
that "gun" (thief) is first attested in 1857, too late to appear in
"son of a gun."

     I withdraw my suggestion.

---Gerald Cohen

>On 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

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