Though seldom used today, a centuries-old exclamation in our language is, “Son of a gun!”

This term is used in a variety of ways reflecting very different emotions; from admiration and excitement, to mild annoyance, to a euphemism for the more offensive “son of a bitch”! On of the oldest of meanings is closest to the last of these; used to describe an individual of particularly ornery Bounty1temperament.

The origin of this term harkens back to the days of the “tall ships”. In the  17th and 18th century, the crewmen of those majestic sailing ships slept below deck, in mesh hammocks slung (among other places) between the guns.

Deprived for long periods at sea of feminine company, when the ship was at  port the crew were often allowed to have their women onboard (the Officer of the Deck, presumably, turning a blind-eye); kept discreetly below deck.

When a crewman’s pregnant woman went into labor, and the labor proved particularly long and difficult; the lady was placed on the deck between two guns (or cannons, for those unused to 7-victory_040-125-1177068033military terminology). The gunners would then simultaneously fire off both guns, on either side of the lady in question. The terrific concussion would often jar the baby loose.

A child so born was thereafter called, “A son of a gun”!

A child delivered by such a violent method was often observed, throughout his or her life, to be possessed of a particularly irascible, pugnacious temperament. Not surprising, considering the damage the concussion may have caused the child’s tender brain tissue!

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  1. Chromatistes says:

    A few nitpicking points: did you mean to say a crewman’s pregnant woman? And these canons – wouldn’t these clerical gentlemen object to being fired? Finally, the women kept ‘discretely’ below deck. Obviously they would have been separate from each other!

    A d*mn queer language, English.

  2. Keith Manuel says:

    This was fun. 🙂 I always learn something from your blog.

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