semantic shift: "shrapnel"

David A. Daniel dad at POKERWIZ.COM
Mon Jan 18 23:25:46 UTC 2010

Most changes in language come from sloppy usage, yes? Or is that too
prescriptive a point of view? The word they want in those reports is
"shards". Shrapnel comes from weaponry. Or at least it did... up until
now... when media folks started using it for random pieces of glass or metal
or rock... and therefore the meaning will change... and therefore it won't
be wrong any more... in fact, it's not even wrong now, since there is no
right or wrong usage. No? Might as well just reduce it all to grunting and
pointing. We dumbin' up, folks. A friend of mine from Houston let loose a
"should of went" the other day. Lady has a master's in Eng Lit (albeit
probably from a Texas school - I don't rightly recall). I said, "ahem,
should've gone". She looked at me with her head cocked, frowning, eyes sort
of looking skyward, as if trying to remember her last grammar class. Then
she just sort of shook her head and said, "Gone? Yeah? Hmm." She probably
gets shrapnel from broken glass, too. Sigh...

I only got one rule: Never bet money that you don't have on a dog race with
your ex-girlfriend who happens to be a stripper.

-----Original Message-----
From: American Dialect Society [mailto:ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU] On Behalf Of
Garson O'Toole
Sent: Monday, January 18, 2010 8:59 PM
Subject: Re: semantic shift: "shrapnel"

Below is another example of the semantic shift of the word shrapnel in
a discussion of the movie Earthquake from 1998:

Citation: 1998, Hollywood's Revolutionary Decade by Charles Champlin,
Page 95. (Google Books snippet view; so I am not certain of the full

Skyscrapers crumble in rains of plate-glass shrapnel. The Hollywood
Reservoir Dam yields to the aftershocks of a quake measured at an
unimaginable 10-plus on the Richter scale and three billion gallons of
water ...

On Mon, Jan 18, 2010 at 4:05 PM, Wilson Gray <hwgray at> wrote:
> To me, too.
> -Wilson
> On Mon, Jan 18, 2010 at 2:26 PM, Jonathan Lighter
> <wuxxmupp2000 at> wrote:
>> CNN reported this morning that Dr. Sanjay Gupta, in Haiti, operated on a
>> "12-year-old girl with shrapnel in her brain."
>> Much later CNN identified the "shrapnel" as "a small piece of concrete."
>> Usage note: OED 1989 defines shrapnel (in the broad and now usual sense)
>> "fragments from shells or bomb."  The extension to bits of metal hurled
>> in any kind of explosion (say, that of a grain elevator) would also seem
>> normal to me, though clearly "literary."  CNN, however,  is using the
>> word with no suggestion of metal or explosion, and this seems to me very
>> strange.
>> JL

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