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From the History Books

What’s in a Name: Common Mistakes in Gun Terminology

by Garry James   |  March 7th, 2012 110

Colt Revolving PistolI’m constantly getting questions about what various gun terms mean.  Even those individuals who have been in the sport for a good period of time occasionally slip up and out of ignorance or, sometimes expediency, slip in a wrong description or definition. I thought it might be interesting and, hopefully informative, to go over a few from time to time. So without further ado, here’s the first batch.

This is the hunk of lead, copper or whatever that comes out of a gun’s barrel.  Bullets can also be called “projectiles” or “shot,” though the latter is somewhat archaic and nowadays normally refers to the small pellets fired from a shotgun. There seems to be an increasing misusage of the term “bullet,” and many people (from the man on the street through filmmakers and novelists to even some supposedly knowledgeable gun writers who should know better) say “bullet” when what they really mean is “cartridge.”  In modern parlance, a cartridge or “round” contains the bullet, powder, case and primer in one tidy package. In days of yore, before the self-contained cartridge, it referred to a paper, skin or fabric packet that included the powder and bullet, priming provided externally, usually by flint and steel or a percussion cap. Cartridges are not bullets, and vice-versa.

Clip vs. Magazine
Simply put, a clip is something that introduces cartridges into a magazine. A magazine can be either fixed, removable, box, tubular, rotary, etc. Stripper clips allow the user to “strip” rounds off into a magazine. There are also types of clips, such as those used in the M1 Garand and some Mannlichers, that are loaded, along with the cartridges they hold, into a magazine. Then they are either ejected or dropped out after all the rounds have been expended. An auto pistol’s magazine is just not a clip, no matter how many times people call it that.
This one’s not quite as cut-and-dried as the previous two. Technically speaking, by the original definition, all handguns are pistols. The term first appeared sometime in the 16th century and is of obscure origin, possibly a corruption of the name of the Tuscan town, Pistoia, though there are other etymological claimants, including small coins, “pistoles,” which had a diameters similar to those of pistol balls. In any event, “pistol” was common enough by the late 1500’s to be used by William Shakespeare as the name of a comedic character in some of his plays. “Pistol” was generic well into the era of revolvers (Sam Colt often called his wares “revolving pistols,” or “repeating pistols,”).  With the advent of the semi-auto, an interest to differentiate between revolvers and other handguns started to form. Today it is accepted to call guns with cylinders “revolvers” and auto pistols, single-shots, etc., “pistols.” In my mind, the term “pistol” can still correctly be applied to all handguns. Interestingly enough in Britain, for some time, there was a habit of calling an auto pistol a revolver.  You commonly see in early 1930s English movies. Old habits die hard, I guess.
Originally this referred to the difference in diameter between a projectile and bore—normally in smoothbores (firearms and cannons), but it can be equally applied to rifles in such things as Minies. This style is still a viable usage today.  Later on, the term came to describe the amount of effect the wind had on a projectile and the adjustment on a sight or sighting to compensate for this.

  • Kevin Mello

    Thank you Garry, I am so tired of hearing people wanting to put a clip in their pistol! It seems like just a sign of the times when people get lazy about using the correct terminology.

    • Mike

      I wouldn't call it a sign of the times because i'm pretty sure it's been happening since…forever.
      Doesn't help that the media (tv, movies, books, games, etc) call it by the wrong name too.

    • Johnbo

      All, I sell guns for a living. You can imagine what I hear and how it drives me crazy!

    • USC

      I believe with the original Mauser C-96, one does (or has the option to) put a clip in their pistol to load it; there may be other early pistol designs that used a stripper clip for loading.

  • Ronnie A. Dulay

    Interesting and informative. Although I've read about "bullet belts", "cartridge belts" sounds better. Thanx.

    • TomG

      And "thanks" reads better than "thanx".

      • GUNNY

        TomG I drove thanx in the army tank you for clearing that up

  • Antonio

    Thanks for the clarifications, Garry. You're quite a pistol.

    • Alan_T

      I wish I'd said that ! HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA

  • Buffalo Bob

    Send this to most of the contemporary authors, who consistently use "clip" when they should know better. Same with "bullet" vs "cartridge" or "round." Another common boo-boo is to use the phrase, "high-caliber" when they usually mean high-velocity or simply powerful. The last time I saw this, they were calling the .223 a high-caliber rifle.

  • mythaeus

    I agree with "bullet" & "clip" are common mistakes, but not "pistol" & "windage". "Pistol" and "revolver" have evolved into distinctions, and as you said, that are now accepted. As a matter of fact, calling a revolver a pistol will raise some eyebrows nowadays unlike calling a cartridge "cartridge". While I'm not a long-time shooter, I am not aware of any other 1-word terminology that was used to describe side-to-side sight adjustment. "Windage" is a derived term, not a mistake per se.

    • garry james

      Agree the term "pistol" has evolved, though through the years it has been continually used for all types of handguns, to a greater or lesser degree. Being Pre-Cambrian in my sensibilities, I still feel comfortable using "pistol" for revolvers, autos et. al. in conversation, though on the printed page I try to be a bit more circumspect . "Cartridge" and "bullet," however, were never synonomous. "Windage" was not meant to be a description of a mistake, but rather a clarification of the term. Should have noted that.

  • ButchG17

    Thanks Garry! My pet peeve is the use of 'firing pin' vs 'striker'. Guns have firing pins……. 'strikers' play soccer, ring bells, and refuse to go to work.

    • Untacticool

      Guns also have strikers. The striker drives the firing pin in Britain. In the US, it's the hammer.

      • old vet

        If it has no hammer and only driven by a spring it is a striker. ( as in striker fired).

  • Tom Bender

    Hollywood is one of the greatest reasons for the mis-use of firearm terms.
    Watch any production, TV or Film.
    We are now in what is often referred to a the Video Arcade Mentality.
    How many people do you know that think what they often see on the plastic strip is the truth or real life ?
    I will finish at this point. I've spent 20 – 30 years in the entertainment field and it still amazes me as to how many individuals in the public domain do not see the majority as fantasy. Of course, the country's mindless reality show mentality does a lot to help ?

    • garry james

      Agree totally about Hollywood–that's where I grew up, so it explains a lot about my personality–but it's amazing how many historians and fiction writers screw things up, too. I read a novel once about the Indian Mutiny of 1857-58 where the soldiers are described as working the bolts on their Enfields and the author mentions the smell of Cordite in the air. Then there's the fairly recent western movie (I have mercifully forgotten its name,) where the CGI people show a gun being fired and the whole cartridge flying through the air in slo-mo.

      • Jdarrellhookem

        That is toooooooo funny!

  • middle o da road

    I thought firing pins are the pins that are directly or indirectly attached to the hammer, whereas a striker doesn't require a hammer, but is spring loaded like in the Springfield XDm series. Let me know if I'm "dum" or not. Thanks.

    • old vet

      100% right

  • Dan Churney

    Another term I hear misused is "machine gun."

    • garry james

      And "Assault Rifle."

  • Alan_T

    The use of the term clip instead of magazine has always drove me wild ( although with medication and therapy I'm slowly coming to grips with the mis-usage ) BUT , my biggest pet peeve is " SHELL CASINGS " . It's just case or cartridge case . As an aside , I once had an acquaintance whom I was showing a magazine to and they thought I was referring to a written periodical . They kept saying …. , " yeah , I see the clip but where's the magazine " and I kept saying , " There , in your hand , that;s the magazine ' . It must have gone on for at least a half hour , it felt like a really stupid version of " Who's On First " . HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA

  • Lopaka Kanaka

    They are many who call a magazine a clip and a clip to me is a strip of cratridges loaded into the magazine.
    A revolver is a pistol with a cylinder that rotates when the trigger is pulled. A semi-auto hand gun (pistol) is a magazine feed round into the breach of the barrel as it is fired semi automatic from a magazine. Anyway we all agree we like guns to shoot, for hunting, target pratice and sometimes for self defense.. Remember to vote for a replacement of our current Commander in Chief when it's your State Voting time? We will wait till June to see how you all voted.

    • Alan_T

      The sooner the better , my friend

    • Heretic

      Then the word revolver is a misnomer. It should be called a rotater.

  • EdgeGun

    Thanks for the good words. A "clip" is found on an M1 Garand or what a woman puts in her hair. A "magazine" is where cartridges make their temporary abode or what most men read on the commode.

    • wesstex

      to Edge: I agree. I was trained in the ROTC in the 1960's by retired army NCOS to load our clip into the magazine or body of the weapon. When in viet nam, we also referred to those little dandies as clips, regardless of what the instructors as the range yelled to us. I imagine the use of "clip" is a carry over by the ol guys from the days of the M1 Garand. The M1 Carbine use a magazine and not a clip.

      No doubt , we would all understand it if some would yell out during a fire fight. "I need more clips."

  • BJC

    Another example for your list is calling a 45 Colt a long Colt which was commonly being called that to differentiate it from the 45 Scofield who's only difference was it was shorter so the 45 Colt would not work in the Scofield.

    • Mel H

      Nor a 455 Webley. Although I Have seen 455 Webley "Revolvers" re-cylindered to 45 "long" Colt. As for Relvor/Pistol Auto. how would you describe a "Webley Fosbrey"? An automatic revolver perhaps!!

  • Kendal

    Interesting column. I read somewhere that a pistol was a handgun in which the chamber was permanently attached to the barrel, which would differentiate it from a revolver. Which sounded logical to me. I guess some of the terms morph over time. Thanks.

  • Charles Coffman

    One also hears the term "automatic revolver". The interesting twist on this is that in a '30's or there about detective story a murder victim is described as having been killed with an "automatic revolver". The weapon was then identified as a "Webley-Fosberry" for which that designation was actually correct. But the name seems to have continued for any automatic pistol. I can't remember the author of the book the murder victim's name was Miles Archer. Thebooks featured detective may have been Sam Spade.

    Another expresssion that has been retained from old time detective fiction is "the smell of cordite".

    • garry james

      The book was the "Maltese Falcon" by Dashiell Hammett. The actual quote is–Sergeant Polhaus: "A Webley. English, ain't it?" Sam Spade: Yes.Webley-Fosbery automatic revolver. That's it. Thirty-eight, eight-shot. They don'y make them any more…" In the John Huston film version of the story, the dialog is similar except Sam Spade (Humphrey Bogart) mispronounces the gun's name and the script mixes up the six-shot .455 with the 8-shot .38 Colt Auto. There was also an automatic revolver made by the Union Firearms Co. in .32.

      • Mel H

        There was also a si fi movie starring Sean Connery, called I think "Zardos", wherein Connery's character uses a Webley Fosbrey.

  • Charles Coffman

    As you may very well know; the author was Dashiell Hammett, and the novel was "The Maltese Falvcon" which was made into a movie with Humphrey Bogart playing Sam Spade.

  • Jeff Knox

    Some of the misguided parlance comes from the military. Some Training Manuals used to refer to magazines as clips and there are die-hards who insist on swimming against the tide and clinging to that. Currently, there are a number of parts and pieces of various military firearms which have "official" nomenclatures most knowledgeable gun guys would disagree with. Of course the worst offenders though are the anti-rights crowd with their "high-capacity assault clips" and dangerous accessories like "barrel shrouds" – which is, as everyone knows, the "shoulder thingy that goes up…" Thank goodness we have these knowledgeable individuals to educate us about gun safety. Jeff Knox –

  • 97thSignalman

    Great little article. I have long known the distinction between the terms clip and magazine. However, about 50 years ago, when Uncle Same assigned me an M1 Carbine, we who used them commonly referred to the magazines as clips even though that was wrong. Specifically, we had both 15-round mags and curved 30-round mags for those carbines. The curved 30-round mags were always referred to as "banana clips" because of their shape. Of course our M1 Garands used clips. In my last year we all were issued brand new M-14 rifles that used what we called 20-round box magazines (the term was correct in this case)…just a bit of historical perspective.

  • Kenneth Hershberger

    Just from a practical perspective, the word "clip" is only 1 syllable whereas "magazine" is 3. While that doesn't make the use of "clip" for "magazine" correct, it is understandable.

    Way back when, I was in the ROTC basic program (1st 2 years) and I was forever incurring the wrath of the military staff over my use of the term "gun" when I spoke of either rifles or handguns. They seemed incapable of understanding that military definitions are not the only correct ones — and just because the Army doesn't want anything other than cannons, etc., called "guns" doesn't make the term incorrect when applied to rifles or pistols. In retrospect it sounds amusing that the military would be so adamant over the use of the term "gun" while themselves misrepresenting a magazine as a clip. Maybe they felt that a magazine was something in which to store ammunition (e.g., a powder magazine)? Just a thought…

  • Charlie

    I'm still confused. With a handgun, am I inserting a clip into the magazine, or the magazine into… What? The base of the handgun? It was my understanding a "clip" was an Insertable, external, spring fed encasing of any number of cartridges. I thought the terms were interchangeable, but the. Again I think of loading shotgun shells into a magazine, not a clip of any kind.

    • Alan_T

      Most auto pistols are loaded with a magazine the fits into its butt , although there have been some like the old Mauser " broom handle " that used a clip inserted into a fixed magazine . Hope that helps you Charlie .

  • Scotty1

    There is only one that gets me…….."shell".
    Like, "how many shells were fired", "how many shells landed",
    "They shelled the beach" and on it goes.
    Since most large guns have "projectiles" and powder charges loaded separate i don't get where the "shell"
    part comes from.
    Many many more.

    • Winbob

      I believe that the term "Shell" refers to a projectile that has explosives in it. So when the navy 'Shells' the beach…there is an explosion when the 'shell' hits. Likewise Skyrockets are referred to as 'Shells'.

  • gary

    Ahh you missed a big misused word,,,,,__ ,How about the worf GUN as in Rifle?____ Now for all of you Military types out there think about how many push ups or laps you had to run when you in front of a NCO or Officer grabbed or called your weapon your GUN lol.__ Calling your weapon or rifle OMG your Gun!!!!!!__ As in as you holding your weapon or rifle at port arms or any position saying this is my rifle it's for fighting and then you reach down to your crotch grabbing it firmly and saying loudly that it's for fun not fighting lol.__ Any fire arm in my book is a weapon……..Never a Gun____ I might cut you slack calling a pistol a handgun but never A GUN…….__Man my back still hurts from getting it kicked so hard as I learned these terms and the other most hated term in the Army Infantry the mistake of calling a magazine a clip!!!!!!!__ Those were cussing words lol__ Bound to cause you pain and sweat………__ Welcome Home to all…..

    • gary martin

      Mind if I throw a little crap in this game I love so dearly and have played for so many yrs, well over 50. But how about my/your "Gun" collections, or "Gun" shows. Hmm, kind of takes in all firearms, don't it? Even military howitzers w/shells, pistols with mags and cylinders, rifles with internal clips, external mags, etc. :)
      Sure is fun isn't it? poppagriz'

  • mikkidog

    My favorite is how many firearms are broken, as in muzzle BREAK LOL

  • Tom

    Okay, more ideas concerning clips vs. magazines. My understanding is that a magazine is a cavity that holds cartridges alone, or a clip containing cartridges, in a multi-shot firearm. The magazine can be tubular, as in lever actions, pump and semi auto shotguns, and box shaped as in centerfire bolt action firearms, and most semi-auto pistols. All multi-shot firearms must have a magazine, but may not have to use a clip. A clip is a device that either transfers cartridges into a magazine (stripper clip), or is filled with cartridges and is inserted into the magazine of the firearm.

    • garry james

      You said it even better than I did.

      • Mel H

        Just for the hell of it.. The word magazine comes from Italy and ment "A Store For Ordance" so if your shotgun has a tubular, and your rifle has a rotary magazine these are fixed i.e. non detachable, and are loaded one by one, by cilp (Garand) and by stipper clip (British Short Magazine Lee Enfield. Detachable Magazines are used in most semiauto pistoles and sub machine guns.

        • Dwittkam

          The easiest way to differentiate the two is that a magazine holds and automatically feeds the rounds while a clip simply holds them (and allows for them to be fed by the user or magazine.)

  • "Grumpy" De Lisle

    It just irritates me to no end when some "savant" calls a firearm a "weapon", so is a baseball bat.

    • gary

      So could your wife be a weapon if you get home to late.
      or her frying pan.
      Get real, if you were in the Military you referred to all handguns and rifles as weapons.
      Never a gun, pistol or god forbid a gun………
      Try and get a life grumpy…….

  • gary

    Oh yes Grumpy;
    I just found out that you are a personal friend of Jane Fonda and Michael Moore thus it explains why your attention deficit is limited to but seconds to the topic the rest of the people on this site were referring to.
    Now tell us what you did to avoid the Military, did you dance at your physical?????? lol.

  • LeRoy

    Next, point blank range defined.

    • Alan_T

      Some people ( most ? ) confuse point blank range with contact distance . The path of a bullet when fired from barrel of a gun is elliptical and point blank range refers to the distance between the two points where the height of the projectile are the same . Contact distance is just that , close up and personal .

    • Mel H

      When you can see the "whites" of their eyes.

  • 22Guy

    Interesting but still confusing. Clip is defined but magazine is not…only example types. What is the definition of magazine?

  • E Zach Lee Wright

    My pet peeve was launched when I saw an episode of CSI. Two investigators were outside a bank window that had some holes in it. One said to the other, "looks like a nine to me". That may seem like a fair comment but there are a lot of bullets flying around that have the same diameter as the nine millimeter Luger. Even with the aid of a micrometer or a microscope there is no possible way the investigator could tell the difference between a hole made from a "nine" and a .357 Magnum, or a .38 Special, or a .38 S&W, or a .380, or a Largo, or a …….

    • gary martin

      You got it, Brother…excellent notice.

  • E Zach Lee Wright

    I made mention of this in a gun store. A fellow customer laughed and informed me there is a lot of difference between a .357 Magnum and a nine millimeter. The owner of the store slid off of his bar stool and wondered off. A minute later he returned with a Ruger revolver and its extra cylinder which he proceeded to show to my antagonist. One cylinder marked .357, the other marked for Luger 9mm. Sweet.

    • TomG

      So, what is your point?

      • Mel H

        They are the same caliber. To convert mm to inches devide by 25.4 (9 / 25.4 = 0.3543) (2:.7 thou. differance)

        • Dwittkam

          mmmm…no. The projectile in a 9mm Luger is .355 inches. The projectile in a .357 Magnum or .38 Smith and Wesson Special is .357 inches. Not to mention the weight of the projectile: 9mm Luger tops out around 147 grains and travels at 1000 feet per second and .357 Magnum tops out around 180 grains traveling at 1150 feet per second. Meaning .357 Magnum has the potential to carry a significant increase in energy (326 ft-lbs vs 528 ft-lbs.) 9mm Luger is also a rimless cartridge (intended to be fired from a magazine fed semi-automatic) while .357 Magnum is a rimmed cartridge (intended to be fired from a revolver, lever action, or break open.) Just do a visual of the two cartridges/rounds and you'll see a clear difference.

  • Ole

    Yes Sargent.
    This is my rifle… this is my gun, one is for killing… one is for fun.

  • Sheila J. Beck

    One of the first things I learned was the difference between clip vs. magazine from my husband, and if I called a magazine a clip, he would go "ballistic" lol

  • Jimmy Carl

    Back in the 50's, when I was a kid, the old timers would say they were going down to buy a box of bullets. Those bullets were made up of a ball, brass, powder, and primer. They would talk about the difference in using the 150, 180, or 220 grain ball in their Ought Six (30-06 Springfield) or Thirty Cal (30/40 Krag). The 300 (Savage) was well thought of but they lamented it not having a heavy, 220 grain, ball. The 150 was too explosive and the 180, great for deer, not enough for moose or bear. If you were a lucky kid, after a successful hunt, they'd tell you the story, and toss you the brass to use as a whistle.

    • gary martin

      Exactly, when I was a kid back in the 1940's it was not that far from the Civil War, where we talked of "balls" in our muzzle loaders, old habits from those previous 500 yrs were hard to drop. (Tongue in cheek) And now we have to deal with…the street language that has moved many to "drop a cap on that sucker". :)

  • Chris P Bacon

    Thanks Gary, for another interesting and informative article. Your gun knowledge never ceases to impress me.
    The first sign I look for to tell if someone is really a "gun person" is whether they use the term clip or mag properly.
    P.S. I really enjoyed your episode of Top Guns. I thought you shot well and gave Colby & Craig a run for their money.

    • garry james

      Thanks. I had more fun doing "Top Guns" any other TV show I've ever worked on. Both Colby and Mike, as well as the director and crew, were great. Too bad you can't see outtakes, because we had a lot of laughs. Those guys are really good shots–especially Colby with that really gummed-up Mosin-Nagant

  • Bob

    This writer doesn't seem to realize that English is an evolving language. The definitions he abhors actually are accurate today, whether he likes it or not. I get tired of hearing pompous fellows who refuse to change with the times. Does he consider a computer mouse something with a tail that you catch in a trap?

    • garry james

      Evolution does not necessarily always have to conflict with precision, but some words, especially nouns, aren't really all that negotiable. I would not call a "bullet" a "cartridge" any more than I'd call a "cat" a "dog." As much as some relativists would like it, we don't yet live in a Looking Glass" world where a Humpty Dumpty can proclaim, "When I use a word…it means just what I choose it to mean–neither more nor less."

    • Alan_T

      I hate to burst your bubble Bob but , you are the one that sounds pompous , and no , they are not accurate today whether YOU like it or not . In fact Bob, you sound like the typical elitist liberal that you probably are .

  • Redleg6

    Definition: bullet [ˈbʊlɪt]
    1. (Military / Firearms, Gunnery, Ordnance & Artillery)
    a. a small metallic missile enclosed in a cartridge, used as the projectile of a gun, rifle, etc.
    b. the entire cartridge
    …….per the FreeDictionary by Farlex. Words should and do mean what the common language usage means, not what gunwriter say they mean.

    • garry james

      Evolution is necessary and pervasive, but we still have to communicate with precision. Especially in technical and most semi-technical wrtiing, as well as in much spoken conversation, it is imperative to maintain some sort of reasonable standard; otherwise confusion and chaos reigns. Mark Twain put it succinctly: "The difference between the almost right word and the right word is really a large matter–it is the difference between the lightning bug and the lightning."

      • Alan_T

        Garry , I'm willing to bet that Bob and redleg6 are one and the same person or at the least working in conjunction . They have no real interest in the subject , they just come in to disrupt and insult . I know that whenever I've pointed this out before that I get a slew of " thumbs down " on every comment I make . I for one , back you 100% .

  • Bob Riley

    Lynyrd Skynyrd is so stoopid. "Gimme back my bullets" indeed!

  • Poldoc

    It's not so much that some of these usages are wrong, given the broader definitions that have evolved, as long as the reader or listener knows what the writer or speaker is referring to when he/she uses terms like "pistol", "clip", "bullet", "assault rifle" etc. I t's just that some of the less precise usages cause us to mutter to ourselves "amateur!", as when you're driving down a winding mountain road behind some guy with Kansas plates whose brake lights come on every 3 seconds, or you read an ad for "thoroughbred Samoyed huskies".

    Just say "bucket" and drive on.

  • garry james

    Love the brake lights analogy. I know this is supposed to be a gun column and this is the last I'll have to say on the subject of semantics, etc., unless you want to hear some more definitions, but I do have one (well, really more than one 'cause I'm an inveterate curmudgeon–W.S. Gilbert, Ambrose Bierce and Sheridan Whiteside are my heroes) pet peeve, and that's when someone says "most unique" or "really unique." If something is unique, it's, well–unique! If it ain't it ain't.

  • old vet

    OK Garry, but I still say for the most part, you're fairly unique.

    • old vet

      P.S. don't stop with the definitions. Your knowledge and writing skill combine to make for an interesting read.

      • Alan_T

        I'm with you vet .

  • Dave

    I went to Bass Pro Shop a few weeks ago and asked the fellow at the firearms counter if he had a magazine for the new Ruger SR1911. He said "We don't handle those here, you'll have to go to the gift shop. That's where the books are." I just shook my head and left.

    • old vet

      So sad, I remember when Bass Pro was really concerned about putting the personnel in a department that actually knew something about what was there. Last time I went there for boots, the sales guy knew less than I did about them. Might as well go to Wally Mart.

      • Alan_T

        I know I'm starting to sound like your cheering section vet ….. but again …. I'm with you .

  • Rudi

    Don't know about you all, but around here a pistol is a hand held firearm — could be a revolver, could be a semi-auto. I'm sure not going to belittle a fellow that calls his Colt New Frontier a "pistol" instead of a "revolver". Same way with "clip" and "magazine" –if someone wants a clip for his 1911 we all know what he is talking about. Seems to me there is too much snobbery being displayed here. A lot of terms may not be technically correct – but that doesn't mean they are necessarily wrong either.

    • C-Api

      I agree. What is with all the whining? Who cares if they call it a clip when they mean magazine? Who cares if it's referred to as a bullet? We all know what is meant by these terms. Just enjoy the fact that these people are actually interested in firearms as opposed to trying to take them away from us.

      • Josh

        Simply due to the fact that most gun enthusiasts feel they are MORE of an enthusiast because they use the CORRECT terminology. However, a bullet that I load into my clip of my gun, is going to kill you all the same as that cartridge I load into my magazine of my firearm.

    • old vet

      You have a good point, I know what someone is referring to also, does not tick me off if the term is not tech. correct. However there are those who take this sport very serious and feel the same as a pro baseball guy would if someone called his bat a club. Not really snobbery.

  • Santos Davila

    The misused terms that irk me are:
    - "AK-47" to refer to all AK-series weapons;
    - "automatic" to refer to all self-loading firearms instead of the proper terms of semi-automatic or (fully) automatic;
    - "bullet" (as explained in the article); and
    - "assault weapon" or "assault rifle" to refer to any magazine-fed, semi-automatic rifle/carbine.

    • Josh

      So the military uses the M4 that is capable of semi or full auto. That is a known fact. They refer to that as an assault rifle and 95-99% of the time, an M4 is unloaded in semi-auto. Rarely is full-auto used. It is an assault rifle (TO ME) because of what it is built for. Assaulting men. It is not built for hunting. It can be USED for hunting, but that is not the purpose of the weapon. Be it semi-burst-full auto.

  • dref1

    Barrel Shroud = The shoulder thingy that goes up…

  • Mel H

    O.K. Garry now that we have flogged this one pretty much to death, how about the statement so beloved of the press and TV:- "This sub machinegun is capable of firing 600 rounds per minute".. The approx, content of a sub machinegun magazine is 30 rounds. therefore 600 rounds requires 20 full magazine. time taken to change a mag. approx 3 seconds. 3 X 20 = 60 seconds. Where do they find the time to fire? I think the correct terminology should be "Cycles Per Second". (cyclic rate) Where the time for the action to complete one full cycle is divided into a minute. Perhaps sales hype is to blame.

    • Josh

      Well, if someone were to be innovative, they COULD make a 600 round chain for a sub-machine gun… it is POSSIBLE. and therefore the sub-machine gun WOULD be capable of firing 600 rounds per minute.

  • Alan_T

    Yeah Mel , and they usually don't include the " sub " part . They just say machine gun . I also like it when so called TV newscasters say in a hushed voice " semi – automatic " implying with their mouths hanging open and having the vapors that , that makes IT a " machine gun " too . Then they look at each other with their concerned frowny faces and shake their heads sadly at each other .

  • GrizzlyIX

    How about that great oxymoron, perpetrated by Hollywierd & even the GOV itself, 'SILENCER', AS OPPOSED TO THE CORRECT 'SUPPRESSOR'. . . . .

  • Dale

    Thank You Garry,
    I collect WWII rifles and hand guns, and i read or watch ANYTHING your involved in.
    Craig Boddingtons' area of interest is different but you two guys always feel like my friends.

    • garry james

      Thank you very much. I know I can speak for my associate Craig–who is one of the world's truly good guys–and say that we really are your friends. As far as I can say, you are always welcome to come visit in Montana, shoot a few rounds, talk guns and hoist some adult beverages.

  • Boyd Cox

    I work in a large gun store and in filling out the 4473 form I have to differentiate between "pistol" and "revolver" when entring the description of the firearm. However, I am somewhat at a loss when entering the description of the Rossi short stocked firearm. According to the ATF it is a "handgun", but the 4473 does not offer that term. However, I have been listing it as "handgun" and have had no problems to date.

  • strongarm

    What about using "Inertia Firing Pin" instead of "Floating Firing Pin". Colt 1911, Beretta F92 all use
    floating type whereas, M1 Garand, M16, Vz50, Makarov use inertia kind.

  • Floyd Bridges

    When I load 30 bullets into my AK-47 clip, it can spray high calibre bullets like a garden hose. That's why it's call a deadly Assault Rifle.

  • Poldoc

    OK, on a somewhat parallel universe track: a Havana cigar to the first one who can correctly pronounce Garand, Franchi, Sako, Leupold, and Mosin-Nagant. (The cigar comes from the CIA's "Fidel Special" stash.)

    • garry james

      Really great idea, but how are we going to do this on line? Would be a super TV quiz. Is Fidel's cigar the one with the cyanide capsule in it?


    what bugs is 45 Long Colt instead of 45 Coll

    • garry james

      Agree totally. I refuse to use the term orally or in print.

  • earlyboomer

    My favorites are references to bullets as "heads" or "tips" and cases as "shells".

  • Old Nam Vet

    I cringe at the misuse of "furniture" as referring to stocks and fore-ends etc. "Furniture" is the fittings on said same such as sling swivels, patch boxes, forend tips, etc etc… ACK

  • donpanoy

    thanks a lot gary for providing us the information, technically we need to use those words to deffirentiate firearms in its appearrance and system.

  • Alastair J. Archibald

    My pet peeves:

    Guns are unrifled firearms such as shotguns, muskets and artillery pieces. An infantryman carries a rifle, or a weapon.
    Shells are explosive projectiles, e.g. fired by field guns. Rifles, MGs and pistols fire bullets – or tracer rounds.
    You don't _pull_ the trigger if you want accuracy. You take first pressure and then _squeeze_ the trigger.

  • Alastair J. Archibald

    Oh, and I'm going to load pellets into my air _rifle_'s _magazine_ and fire a few rounds downrange. For some reason, I don't like the term "unloading" as a synonym for "firing".

  • Mac McSpadden

    Just read Garry James’s article on firearms terminology. I’m a life member of the NRA, and I’ve been shooting, reloading, and hunting for over forty years, and I want to weigh in on this. With all due respect to Garry James, different experts call different things by their own preferred names. There is an unfortunate lack of consistent terminology on ALL firearms related matters. what one “expert” calls a “round” is what another may call a bullet. Some experts would disagree that the term “gun” means only non-rifled firearms. I once read that the term “pistol” is defined as a handgun in which the chamber is integral with the barrel, as in an auto-pistol or single shot pistol, which disqualifies revolvers as “pistols”.
    I’ve read literally a ton of gun magazines over the years, and The only consistent thing I find is the inconsistency in what different gun writers call firearms-related things.
    I could go on and on, but you get the idea. There is one bit of terminology I’ve read, but have never fully understood. Col. Boddington (and no one else) often uses the term “overbore capacity”. Anybody know what the hell that means?

  • Mac McSpadden

    I like beautiful, artistic firearms. I like engraving, pearl handles, carved rifle/shotgun stocks. I will be SOOOOOO happy when the word “tactical” goes the way of the white line spacer !!!!!! And, by the way, revolvers are more reliable than any semiauto pistol, and I will NEVER be so stupid as to attach a flashlight ( “Tactical” or otherwise) to my firearm and then go into a dark place where the bad guy is hiding.

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