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

Neal Whitman nwhitman at AMERITECH.NET
Wed Oct 14 01:56:59 UTC 2015

I'm inclined to believe your story, but I'm biased: It's the one that 
lets stand what I wrote for you in 2010. To wit: "Young guns" with some 
of its modern meaning of youth, vigor, etc., was there as early as 1888, 
but in contexts involving actual guns; the figurative usage seems to 
have been kicked off with the 1956 movie The Young Guns.



On 10/13/2015 1:22 PM, Ben Zimmer wrote:
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> Sender:       American Dialect Society <ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU>
> Poster:       Ben Zimmer <bgzimmer at GMAIL.COM>
> Subject:      "young guns" and "young 'uns"
> -------------------------------------------------------------------------------
> 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:
> http://newspaperarchive.com/us/ohio/steubenville/steubenville-herald-star/1929/12-28/page-6
> "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?
> --bgz
> ------------------------------------------------------------
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Dr. Neal Whitman
Lecturer, ESL Composition
School of Teaching and Learning
College of Education and Human Ecology
Arps Hall
1945 North High Street
whitman.11 at osu.edu
(614) 260-1622

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

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