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

Ben Zimmer bgzimmer at GMAIL.COM
Fri Oct 23 16:25:20 UTC 2015

I wrote about "young guns" for my Wall St. Journal column this week --
crediting Neal's great research:


If you hit the WSJ paywall, you can get around it by Googling the headline:


On Tue, Oct 13, 2015 at 9:56 PM, Neal Whitman wrote:
> 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.
> https://www.visualthesaurus.com/cm/dictionary/what-triggered-the-rise-of-young-guns/?noredirect=1
> Neal
> On 10/13/2015 1:22 PM, Ben Zimmer wrote:
>> 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?

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