Etymology Day, Part Five

“Loose Cannon”

I don’t know how many times I’ve seen in comics/ cop shows/ parodies when the chief/best work friend/ lover call the protagonist a “loose cannon,’ and therefore not be trusted/ relied upon/ loved. I knew the definition, but really started pondering why a cannon would be loose often enough that this phrase would come into our vocabulary.

The term was first legitimately used in Victor Hugo’s last novel, Quatrevingt-treize (“Ninety-Three” in English) in 1874. When heavy storms were approaching a ship, all cannons had to be securely fastened in place.

If one broke free, it would roll uncontrollably around the ship, wreaking havoc on everything in its path. See any semblance to the modern-day definition?

The first figurative use was in The Galveston Daily News in 1889 where it talked about the unrealized power of the African-American vote.

Some great loose cannons:

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James Bond was a well-dressed loose cannon. Then again, so is

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Naomi Campbell.

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Football’s Terrell Owens is pretty loose, too.

And, at one time or another,

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the entire cast of law and order SVU. Always, one of them “does their own thing” which puts the team in jeopardy.

If you’re still not convinced loose cannons have a big following, there’s even a comic!

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