Silver bullet (figurative 1945)

Garson O'Toole adsgarsonotoole at GMAIL.COM
Sun Jan 9 10:53:54 UTC 2011

Fred Shapiro discussed "silver bullet" in a NYT blog post on Thursday.
(Vic Steinbok and others discussed the phrase "dodging a silver
bullet" in October on the list.)

The OED presents a figurative sense with a first cite in 1951.

silver bullet, n.
1. b. fig. A simple, miraculous solution to a complex and difficult
problem. Also (Med.): = magic bullet n.
1951    Bedford (Pa.) Gaz. 19 Sept. 1/3   There are those who warn
against viewing the atom as a magic weapon . I agree. This is not a
silver bullet which can deliver itself or otherwise work military

A 1945 newspaper article profiled the battleship U. S. S. Pennsylvania
aka "Old Pennsy" and used the term "silver bullet" in a way that may
fit the definition above. The following text occurred at the end of
the article:

Cite: 1945 March 20, New York Times, Old Pennsy, Page 18, New York,
New York. (ProQuest)

She was the first American battleship to enter Leyte Gulf, and she
stayed there thirty-seven days defying many a Japanese suicide squad.
At Surigao Strait she helped send a couple of enemy battleships down
to Davy Jones' scrap pile. It was her guns again that opened our
drumfire in Lingayen Gulf.

They say you can't lay a ghost except with silver bullets. The
Japanese have no silver bullets for the Pennsy.

In other words, the Japanese military have no simple solution to the
difficult problem of the destruction wrought by the battleship.
However, the usage is complicated by the fact that the article
contains an extended metaphor about the battleship and ghosts. This
text appeared earlier in the story:

She was our flagship, and the Japanese, when they attacked Pearl
Harbor, were determined to get her. They saw the exploding bomb that
hit her superstructure, were sure they had sunk her, and so told the
world. She has been haunting them ever since.

Never has there been a livelier ghost nor, as the enemy has learned, a
deadlier one.

The American Dialect Society -

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