son of a gun

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son of a gun

Post by Archived Topic » Fri Dec 17, 2004 7:41 pm

Does anyone know the origin of the above phrase?

Thanks,
JF 12/19/2004
Submitted by Jeff Freeman (Orlando, FL - U.S.A.)
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son of a gun

Post by Archived Reply » Fri Dec 17, 2004 7:54 pm

Jeff, SON OF A GUN is now a euphemism for the nastier ‘son of a bitch’ as in ‘He was regarded as the worst son of a gun in the company.” But it is often also used – as my father used it – as a term of affectionate regard, as in ‘Why you little son of a gun!’ In addition to describing, as it originally did, a rogue, scoundrel, scamp, scalawag, it is also used to describe a difficult or odious task or other matter as in “Finding that leak in the system was a son of a gun.” It is also an interjection used as an exclamation of surprise, disappointment, or dismay as in plain old ‘son of a gun!’

The expression was originally recorded in 1708 (see below). Some etymologists believe that the expression meant the illegitimate son of a soldier (a ‘gun’). Others believe it was simply a euphemism for ‘son of a bitch’ or ‘son of a whore’ and that it became popular because of its rhyme. The predominant theory is the one that says that ‘son of a gun’ originated in the 18th century when women were permitted to live aboard naval ships. When one of these women gave birth to a child without knowing which one of the sailors had fathered it, the child was considered a “soldier’s bastard” and the paternity was logged as ‘gun’ and the child as ‘son of a gun,’ alluding either to the sexual implications of ‘gun’ or to the midship gun which was located near the makeshift maternity room. To me, this smacks of folk etymology, but the person who provided this information, Laurence Urdang, is a well-respected etymologist and lexicographer who wouldn’t be expected to fall into such obvious traps. In any case, the expression was popular and somewhat less offensive as an alternative to ‘son of a bitch,’ which also intimated that the mother was less than virtuous.

“The Sailor’s Workbook’ (1867) written by British navy admiral William Henry Smyth, attempted to explain the expression’s origin in a somewhat bowdlerized form, some 150 years after the expression originally appeared, and several sources list this as its origin, but that seems extremely doubtful: “An epithet conveying contempt in a slight degree, and originally applied to boys born afloat, when women were permitted to accompany their husbands at sea; one admiral declared he literally was thus cradled, under the breast of a gun-carriage.”
<1708 “You'r a SON OF A GUN”—‘The British Apollo’ (London), No. 43, page 3/2>

<1840 “We heard the rough voice of a SON OF A GUN Of a watchman, ‘One o'clock!’ bawling.”—‘The Ingoldsby Legends,’ by Barham, Cynotaph (note)>

<1849 “What a happy feller I once thought you, and what a miserable SON OF A GUN you really are!”—‘The History of Pendennis’ by Thackeray, lx>

<1883 “Thou lubberly, duck-legged SON OF A GUN.”—“Harper’s Magazine,’ October, page 759/2>
(Urdang's Picturesque Expressions, Facts on File Encyclopedia of Word and Phrase Origins, Facts on File Dictionary of Clichés, Oxford English Dictionary)
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Ken G – December 19, 2004
Reply from Ken Greenwald (Fort Collins, CO - U.S.A.)
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son of a gun

Post by Archived Reply » Fri Dec 17, 2004 8:07 pm

Welcome back, Ken! Thanks for the detailed and prompt response. I figured it had something to do with illegitimate children of soldiers, but I had no idea it traced back so far.

Thanks again.
JF 12/19/2004
Reply from Jeff Freeman (Orlando, FL - U.S.A.)
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son of a gun

Post by Archived Reply » Fri Dec 17, 2004 8:21 pm

Could also be the result of a "shotgun marriage."

Maggie in Oregon
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son of a gun

Post by Archived Reply » Fri Dec 17, 2004 8:34 pm

Maggie, Perhaps that would be better termed an ‘engaugement’ than a marriage.
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Ken G – December 21, 2004

Reply from Ken Greenwald (Fort Collins, CO - U.S.A.)
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son of a gun

Post by Archived Reply » Fri Dec 17, 2004 8:47 pm

I said above, “When one of these women gave birth to a child without knowing which one of the sailors had fathered it, the child was considered a 'soldier’s bastard' and the paternity was logged as ‘gun’ and the child as ‘son of a gun.’”

Hmm. Wonder what they called the kid if it was a girl. But maybe they figured the girls wouldn’t be of much use anyway and so they didn’t bother logging them in and instead, just disposed of them at sea.– Wow, very un-P.C.! Oh, they wouldn’t do that. So here is a weighty research question. What did they call a female 'son of a gun?'
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Ken G – December 21, 2004
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son of a gun

Post by Archived Reply » Fri Dec 17, 2004 9:01 pm

Hon of a gun
Reply from dale hileman (Apple Valley, CA - U.S.A.)
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son of a gun

Post by Archived Reply » Fri Dec 17, 2004 9:14 pm

Ken,

Wasn't the "Gun Deck" the more private and roomier area? The space between guns was the preferred locale for fornication. The phrase "son of a gun" meaning born under a gun, was another term for "bastard". No research here, just something I have heard for years.

Gregg
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