[Ads-l] "young guns" and "young 'uns"

Ben Zimmer bgzimmer at GMAIL.COM
Tue Oct 13 17:22:33 UTC 2015

OED added "young gun" in the June 2015 update, with three senses:

1. A small gun, a pistol. Now rare. (1822)
2. A young person who uses a gun; (also) a person who is inexperienced
in the use of guns. (1844)
3. colloq. An assertive or ambitious young person, esp. within a
particular organization or institution. (1929)

The 1929 cite for sense 3 is:

1929   Steubenville (Ohio) Herald-Star 28 Dec. 6/5   You can just hear
the young guns gab.

Further context:

"One of the funny things about modern dances is that it takes at least
two orchestras, and sometimes three, to play for one dance. And we old
ones can remember the day when the orchestra played an encore or two
and then everybody retired to the sidelines to chat. Ye fishes, chat!
You can just hear the young guns gab about anything so funny as that.
And when someone spiked the punch."

It strikes me that "young guns" here is simply a variant of "young
'uns," rather than having anything do with metaphoric/metonymic guns.
Given that "young 'un" has often been spelled as one word, "youngun,"
it doesn't seem like a big leap to "young gun." (It wouldn't even
require a Long Guyland accent, though that would help.)

Wiktionary ( https://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/young_gun ) suggests that
"young gun" might have originated as a play on "young 'un," but I
don't see that mentioned as a possibility elsewhere. I think the
current "assertive or ambitious" sense likely emerged from earlier
pistol-packing usage, but the 1929 cite just doesn't seem to fit in
that lineage. Thoughts?


The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

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