semantic shift: "shrapnel"

Jonathan Lighter wuxxmupp2000 at GMAIL.COM
Tue Jan 19 01:00:15 UTC 2010

>>Next up: calling your rifle a "gun."

A notorious no-no. But ask the average, non-firearm-savvy speaker what
his/her usage is.  Ya can't stop them, I tells ya!


On Mon, Jan 18, 2010 at 7:28 PM, Dave Wilton <dave at> wrote:

> ---------------------- Information from the mail header
> -----------------------
> Sender:       American Dialect Society <ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU>
> Poster:       Dave Wilton <dave at WILTON.NET>
> Subject:      Re: semantic shift: "shrapnel"
> -------------------------------------------------------------------------------
> Not quite. A shrapnel shell, or "spherical case shot," was a hollow shell
> filled with round balls that were dispersed when a burster charge blew the
> shell apart. Shrapnel shells became obsolete during WWI when they were
> replaced with the modern high-explosive fragmentation shell. With the new
> weapon, the casing fragmented and the shards caused the casualties. The
> high-explosive shells were easier and cheaper to manufacture, more
> reliable,
> and carried a larger explosive charge, so they were more effective. By 1940
> and WWII, the original shrapnel shells were long gone.
> What we have here is a term for an obsolete technology being given new life
> by being applied to the replacement technology. We still "dial" a phone
> number and "cc" emails; the same thing happened with anti-personnel
> weapons.
> So if you really want to get pedantic and technical, shrapnel hasn't
> existed
> anywhere, other than museums, for nearly a century.
> Next up: calling your rifle a "gun."
> -----Original Message-----
> From: American Dialect Society [mailto:ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU] On Behalf
> Of
> Robin Hamilton
> Sent: Monday, January 18, 2010 3:46 PM
> Subject: Re: semantic shift: "shrapnel"
> > 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...
>         [SNIP]
> > DAD
> 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.
> Robin
> ------------------------------------------------------------
> The American Dialect Society -
> ------------------------------------------------------------
> The American Dialect Society -

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

The American Dialect Society -

More information about the Ads-l mailing list