smoking gun

This formerly read-only archive of threads dates back to 1996, but as of March 2007 is open to new postings. For technical reasons, the early dates shown do not accurately reflect the actual date of posting.

Feel free to add new postings to any of the existing threads in the archived forums, but please create any new language-related threads in one of the Language Discussion Forums.
Post Reply

smoking gun

Post by Archived Topic » Thu Aug 12, 2004 1:56 pm

I've heard Colin Powell's statement of today referred to as a "smoking gun." What does this mean? Thank you.

Lee
Submitted by ( - )
Post actions:
Signature: Topic imported and archived

smoking gun

Post by Archived Reply » Thu Aug 12, 2004 2:10 pm

It's a reference to solving a murder by gunshot, specifically to solving it through the discovery of an obvious and irrefutable clue.
Every investigator's dream is to arrive at the scene of the crime soon enough after the shot is fired to find the "smoking gun." (Because a gun is fired by an explosion of gunpowder, there is usually a wisp of smoke coming out of the barrel shortly after the shot is fired.) If the gun is still smoking, the killer can be no more than a few seconds away, and therefore likely to be apprehended.
Reply from ( - )
Post actions:
Signature: Reply imported and archived

smoking gun

Post by Archived Reply » Thu Aug 12, 2004 2:25 pm

Thank you so much. I must admit, though, that I am still confused about this reference in this circumstance. Perhaps I need a "world wizard" now....
Reply from ( - )
Post actions:
Signature: Reply imported and archived

smoking gun

Post by Archived Reply » Thu Aug 12, 2004 2:39 pm

From _Brewer's Dictionary of Modern Phrase and Fable (2000) by Adrian Room:
Smoking gun. A piece of incontrovertible incriminating evidence. The allusion is to a gun that has obviously only just been fired after being used to commit a crime. The expression is particularly applied to the incriminationg tape of 23 June 1973 in the Watergate affair, on which President Nixon can be heard approving a plan to direct the CIA to request that the FBI halt its investigation into the source of the cash possessed by the Watergate burglars and into the 'silence' money promised them by the administration. Nixon would almost certainly not have been threatened with impeachment if the tape had remained undiscovered.
----------
Then we rushed on into the captain's cabin ... and there he lay ... while the chaplain stood, with a smoking pistol in his hand. (Conan Doyle, "The 'Gloria Scott'")
I guess we have found the smoking pistol, haven't we? (Barber B. Conable, Jr., on the Watergate tapes)
Reply from ( - )
Post actions:
Signature: Reply imported and archived

Re: smoking gun

Post by Ken Greenwald » Thu Aug 11, 2011 10:02 pm

I read the following about the continuing court battle between Facebook and Paul Ceglia in which Ceglia claims he is the founder and is suing for ownership of half the company.”—Google News:
<2011 (article title) “Exclusive: Facebook’s Smoking Gun in the Ceglia Case? The Authentic Contract”—Wired, 6 August>
However, I failed to do a WW search (>:) as we always warn members to do before they get started. Well, I do have some information that is not in the above posts, so rather than throw this into the digital wastepaper basket, I have posted it for your reading pleasure:

SMOKING GUN has it obvious literal meaning, but I was wondering how it's figurative meaning arose.

The following was gleaned from several sources:

SMOKING GUN (also SMOKING PISTOL) [early 1970s, possibly 1974]] (U.S.): A piece of incontrovertible evidence (often, but not always, criminal – see 2011 quote below); something that serves as indisputable proof. This derives from the image of a killer discovered immediately after the crime and still holding the smoking firearm. The earliest literal example I could find was from 1843. The figurative phrase was used (possibly coined) to characterize the incriminating tape of 23 June 1972 in the infamous Watergate affair, on which President Nixon could be heard approving a plan to direct the CIA to request that the FBI halt its investigation into the source of the ‘silence’ money promised the burglars. This tape dubbed ‘the smoking gun’ was released on August 5, 1974.
(Discussions may be found in the Oxford English Dictionary, Brewer’s Dictionary of Modern Phrase & Fable, Allen’s English Phrases, Chapman’s Dictionary of American Slang, Oxford Dictionary of Idioms, Facts on File Encyclopedia of Word and Phrase Origins, American Heritage Dictionary of Idioms)

Incidentally, the first smokeless powder (which was unstable), was invented in 1846; stable forms were developed in the 1880s by French chemist Paul Vieille in (1884) and in 1888 by Swedish chemist Alfred Dynamite Nobel (of the Nobel Prize). However, smokeless powder was almost smokeless (though I don’t know how almost), but not completely, and thus smoking guns were not a total fiction perpetrated by paperback detective novelists and movie directors, but were perhaps an exaggeration.

The following quotes were from the Oxford English Dictionary and archived sources:
<1843 “Ammalat leaped from his horse, and, resting his arms on his yet smoking gun, looked for several moments steadfastly in the face of the murdered man . . .”—Blackwood's Magazine, Vol. 53, page 755>

<1877 “We started for the door, but before we could reach it Ford had fired, and as we put our heads into the snow, we saw him standing with the smoking gun in his hand, . . .”—St. Nicholas by M. M. Dodge, Vol. 4, page 795>

<1928 “No one saw Hickok's hand move, yet the hundredth of a second later he stood with smoking gun covering the lifeless form of the gambler in the center of the square.”—Boys' Life , August, page 51>

<1966 “As the startled judge ducked beneath his bench and armed policemen rushed into the courtroom, Rosalina calmly put down the still-smoking gun and said, ‘Justice has been done.’”—Jet, 20 October, Vol. 31, No. 2, page 52>

<1974 “Some are still searching for what has come to be termed ‘the murder weapon’—or ‘the smoking gun’—the definitive piece of evidence that the President committed a crime.”—New Yorker, 21 October, page 135/1>

<1976 “Buzhardt felt that here was a potential smoking gun.” . . . “He had heard the President approve the plan, he had heard him suggest the exact wording. Buzhardt had found the ‘smoking pistol.’ He had heard the President load it, aim and fire.”—Final Days by Woodward & Bernstein, page 269 & 271>

<1984 “Determinate sentencing, as an alternative to parole, forces the system to wait for the smoking gun, rather than proactively intervene before another terrible tragedy.”—New York Times, 14 October, xi. page 30/5>

<1994 “Prosecutors still lack a murder weapon, eyewitness, or other ‘smoking gun’ evidence.”—Chicago Tribune, 3 July i. page 6/1>

<2011 “The paper (in the journal Science) is suggestive of liquid water, but the team has not found the smoking gun.”—Houston Chronicle, 6 August> [[reference to the possibility of liquid water on Mars]]
______________________

Ken G – August 11, 2011
Post actions:

End of topic.
Post Reply