ivory and rifles

Mike Salovesh t20mxs1 at CORN.CSO.NIU.EDU
Thu Apr 4 09:16:02 UTC 2002

"Booth, Curtis" wrote:
> General George S. Patton disdained wussy pearl for pistol grips. His
> revolvers' handles were clad in soldier-worthy ivory. He is reported to have
> said (but maybe just in the movie), "Only a pimp in a New Orleans whorehouse
> or a tin-horn gambler would carry a pearl-handled pistol."
> I always thought the difference between a gun and a rifle was that a rifle
> had to be rifled, whereas a gun wasn't. It wouldn't make any sense to rifle
> a shotgun, would it? I don't know about guns (or rifled arms) too big to
> hold in the hands, however.
> Curtis

I've been overwhelmed with other stuff to do, so I haven't kept up.  My
apologies if somebody already said this.  "Gun" was a specialized term in
the language of the U.S. Army in those long-ago days when I was in it.

Rifling, as such, was not the feature that distinguished a rifle from a
gun.  Modern pistols usually are rifled, but in U.S. Army lingo, a pistol
never was called a gun: it was a pistol (or, perhaps, a weapon). The word
gun was applied only to a crew served weapon.  If it could be carried,
loaded, and fired by a single soldier, it was NOT a gun, by definition.

The thing a soldier might carry in a parade could be called a rifle, a
carbine, or, after my time, an attack weapon.  In non-formal speech it
might be a piece, an M-1 (rifle), an M-1 or M-2 (carbine), or some other
model number, or many other things, but it was never supposed to be called
a gun.

There are apparent exceptions to the rule that gun = crew served weapon.
There are machine guns that are individual weapons. Submachine guns and
shotguns are clearly designed to be used by an individual.  The anomaly is
an illusion, howeever. In all these cases, the "gun" element is a bound
morpheme, not a freestanding word.  So even though the label "submachine
gun" contains a "-gun" element, it still was regarded as ungrammatical to
use the word "gun" alone in referring to a submachine gun.

The distinction used to be taught to every basic trainee with a mnemonic

"This is my rifle, and this is my gun
 This is for business, and this is for fun."

The poem was accompanied by repeating two pointing gestures: one toward a
rifle, usually on the speaker's shoulder; the other toward -- well, gently,
the speaker's crotch.

-- mike salovesh   <m-salovesh-9 at alumni.uchicago.edu>   PEACE !!!

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