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:

sean-conneryphoto credit 

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

naomi-campbellphoto credit

Naomi Campbell.

owensphoto credit

Football’s Terrell Owens is pretty loose, too.

And, at one time or another,

svuphoto credit

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!

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s