semantic shift: "shrapnel"

Robin Hamilton robin.hamilton2 at BTINTERNET.COM
Mon Jan 18 23:46:14 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...



Actually, it's worse than that -- the rot set in in 1940.  The correct
meaning of "shrapnel", as the OED points out, is: "1. A hollow projectile
[sic]containing bullets and a small bursting charge, which, when fired by
the time fuse, bursts the shell and scatters the bullets in a shower."

This perfectly correct usage persisted from 1806 until 1940, when the term
was quite illicitly extended from the shell itself to the fragments
contained in it or projected from it.

The subsequent shift to refer to scattered showers of destructive shards
produced by any explosion simply further extends this corruption of the
original usage.

Myself, I blame the Great Patriotic War -- language has been going downhill
ever since then.


The American Dialect Society -

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