[Ads-l] shoot one's wad (1860)

Charles C Doyle cdoyle at UGA.EDU
Mon Aug 7 19:00:48 UTC 2017

Not to mention "Keep your pecker up."


From: American Dialect Society <ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU> on behalf of Laurence Horn <laurence.horn at YALE.EDU>
Sent: Monday, August 7, 2017 12:37:54 PM
Subject: Re: shoot one's wad (1860)

I agree that this one didn’t start out as graphic, but given a shift in architecture of modern weaponry and thus in the nature of firing mechanisms, and the lack of any commensurate shift in the…um, firing mechanism and reloading possibilities of the human male anatomy, it’s likely that the expression often gets reanalyzed along these lines assumed by Mr. Weixel.  Reminds me of a similar shift (or possible shift) in the way we understand “(it’s) down to the short hairs”, as discussed awhile back by Safire:


Wiktionary invokes only non-sexual allusions:

Various other cites adduce rowing, golfing, or sexual origins.  But who really knows? (Not necessarily a rhetorical question with our group!)  In any case, it’s not as obvious as (to use TV warning abbreviations) the V rather than S origin of “shoot one’s wad”.


> On Aug 7, 2017, at 11:41 AM, Ben Zimmer <bgzimmer at gmail.com> wrote:
> This expression is in the news because of a quote from Sen. Orrin Hatch:
> http://www.politico.com/story/2017/08/07/trump-obamacare-congress-tax-reform-241340
> "We’re not going back to health care. We’re in tax now. As far as I’m
> concerned, they shot their wad on health care and that’s the way it is. I’m
> sick of it."
> On Twitter, one reporter called the expression "graphic," likely assuming
> it originally referred to ejaculation.
> https://twitter.com/NateWeixel/status/894570374989582336
> But as has been discussed here in the past, the original metaphorical
> foundation of "shoot one's wad" has to do with the wadding used for loading
> muskets and cannons and such.
> Here's the earliest metaphorical usage I've found, in the sense of "use up
> all of one's resources" (in this case, rhetorical resources).
> Clearfield (Pa.) Republican, Aug. 15, 1860, p. 2, col. 5
> He, too, was called to the stand, and after torturing himself severely some
> thirty minutes, sat down -- not that the audience were tired of him, by any
> means; but the gentleman _had shot his wad_.
> https://www.newspapers.com/image/?spot=12925332
> --bgz
> ------------------------------------------------------------
> The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

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

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

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