Antedating of "shotgun house" 1903

Sat Apr 10 17:38:50 UTC 2004

        The essential idea that the rooms are all in a row seems to be central to the idea of the shotgun house.  (I've never heard of a shotgun apartment.)  I've heard the suggestion that they are so-called because a shot fired through the front door would go out the rear door, but I suppose the tubular layout concept is also consistent with the evidence.

        Here are some more early uses, although they are still quite a bit later than the 1903 cite:

        "The Glen home is described by the witnesses as a shotgun house, composed of a front gallery, front room, middle room, and kitchen, with all these rooms adjoining, one behind the other in the order named."  Jones v. State, 94 So. 851 (Miss. 1923).

        "The dwelling was what is known as a shotgun house consisting of 3 rooms in a row."  Rufony v. State, 265 S.W. 704 (Tex. Crim. App. 1924).

        "The three houses on the rear end of the lot are frame and cheap. They have only two or three rooms and are what are known as "shot-gun" houses. None of the houses could be rented to any other than a very poor class of tenants."  Moore v. Minnis, 11 Tenn.App. 88 (Tenn. App. 1929).

        "Webster and his wife lived in what is described as a "shotgun" three-room house in the Town of Bude, Mississippi. A "shotgun" house means the rooms are in a straight row. Entrance to the premises was through a fence-gate into a small *534 front yard; thence upon a front porch and through a door therefrom into the front room, some nine feet long and ten feet wide; thence by a partition door into the middle room, some twelve feet wide and ten feet long; and thence through a partition door into the kitchen, from which a door opened onto a small back yard, or garden, to the rear of which was a low fence and the family toilet."  Webster v. State, 12 So.2d 533 (Miss. 1943).

John Baker

-----Original Message-----
From: American Dialect Society [mailto:ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU]On Behalf
Of Douglas G. Wilson
Sent: Saturday, April 10, 2004 12:32 AM
Subject: Re: Antedating of "shotgun house" 1903

>A further question--were these cheap, usually straight houses truly called
>that because a shot fired through the front door would go out the rear
>door?  That is suggested in a 1941 DARE cite.

I doubt it. Probably the dwelling was likened to a shotgun because it was
long and narrow, essentially tubular in layout, like a shotgun barrel. I
would suppose further that this floor plan was often reduplicated as a
duplex or "row house", thus likened to a shotgun with two almost-identical
side-by-side barrels. Just speculation.

I've heard "shotgun apartment" more often than "shotgun house" (I'm from up
north). People talking about poor housing (usually down south) would refer
to "shotgun shacks", with nice alliteration which may have favored the name.

"Shotgun apartment" is about the same as "railroad apartment", I think. Why
"railroad"? Because a train could go straight through? I doubt it. Because
the rooms are lined up like railroad cars? Maybe. Because railroad employee
housing in the old days featured such a floor plan? Maybe. Just speculation.

-- Doug Wilson

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