poss. antedating of "shrapnel" (exploding fragments)

Jonathan Lighter wuxxmupp2000 at GMAIL.COM
Tue Feb 16 02:31:41 UTC 2010

OED: 1940.

1917 _Wellsboro [Pa.] Agitator_ (Jan. 3) 8: Charles Foster is confined to a
hospital in France as the result of...being struck with a piece of shrapnel.

1917 _Ft. Wayne [Ind.] News_  (Jan. 6) 6: Sergeant Middlemiss wears dangling
from his chain a charm in the form of a small jagged piece of shrapnel
...[from] the bursting of a hand grenade.

1917 _Tyrone [Pa.] Daily Herald_ (Jan. 12) 1: Many persons probably were
killed and a large number injured by flying shrapnel in a series of
tremendous explosions in the munitions plant of the Canadian Car and Foundry
company at Lyndhurst, in northeastern New Jersey.

NewspaperArchive of course turns up many exx. of _shrapnel_ during WWI, but
the above, which appeared within a period of nine days, strongly suggest
that the nontechnical sense had become established by 1917.  (These are just
three samples.)

Many other exx. speak of "bullets" or "balls" of "shrapnel."  The
above speak instead of "pieces" - ambiguous perhaps.  However, even though
the Jan. 12 explosions took place in a munitions plant, the context hardly
suggests that the victims were hit only by literal "shrapnel."

However careful the military might have been in its usage of the word during
WWI, it's hard for me to imagine that the general public would have shared
that desire for accuracy.


"If the truth is half as bad as I think it is, you can't handle the truth."

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

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