Inner Prescriptivism

James Landau jjjrlandau at EARTHLINK.NET
Sun Dec 4 23:36:38 UTC 2005

**** note new address    JJJRLandau at   *******

someone wrote:
> Er, if you're talking Hemingway........
> I remember reading about EH's death while sitting eating breakfast in a
> cafe in Casper, WY in (probably late June) 1961. At the time it was given
> out that it had been an accident "while cleaning his gun."
> AM

In my experience "killed while cleaning his gun" is EXCLUSIVELY a genteel
euphemism for "committed suicide."

Why?  Any damn fool can shoot himself with his own gun, and many do, but it
takes an exceptionally imaginative and absent-minded damn fool to do so
while in the act of CLEANING his firearm.  With most firearms the very
first step in cleaning is to remove the breech mechanism so that one can
see down the barrel, and once the breech mechanism is removed the firearm
is harmless, even if a cartridge is still inside.  To remove the breech one
has to turn the firearm so that the breech is facing one, or at least so
that the firearm is crosswise, which means the firearm is pointing away
from one.

When Merriman Smith, the longtime White House correspondent for UP (among
other things he had been the first to report the deaths of both FDR and
JFK), committed suicide, the news reports I saw all said "killed himself
while cleaning his rifle."  I imagine Smith is still rolling over in his
grave because his colleagues were all too, uh, something to report his
suicide and lied instead.

By the way, does anyone know how the phrase "damn fool" managed to acquire
the specialized meaning of "someone whose stupidity threatens death or
serious injury to himself or those around him"?

    - James A. Landau

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