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I was googling the reason for why it's called "shotgun" to ride beside the driver when it suddenly hit me - why on Earth is the firearm called "shotgun"?!

Is there any other kind of a gun than one used for shooting?! Why is it called "shotgun" instead of just a "gun" or a more technical term (9-gauge, barrel gun etc.)?

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closed as off-topic by RegDwigнt Aug 7 at 11:01

This question appears to be off-topic. The users who voted to close gave this specific reason:

  • "Questions that can be answered using commonly-available references are off-topic. A list of these references can be found here: List of general references" – RegDwigнt
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By the way, "riding shotgun" derives from the Old West practice of transporting money in stagecoaches with an armed guard riding next to the driver, typically carrying a shotgun. At the time, the nickname for an "express messenger" with a guard was "shotgun messenger". The term "ride shotgun" appears to have come into use in Western fiction in the early 20th century. –  BobRodes Jun 29 at 3:27
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I think the elephant in the room is that you are disregarding morphology on purpose. A gun used for shooting would be called a shootgun or a shooting gun. A shotgun, on the other hand, is quite obviously not a gun for shooting, but a gun for shot. –  RegDwigнt Jun 30 at 10:07
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I have to close this per the very first sentence in the Wikipedia article on shotguns. –  RegDwigнt Jun 30 at 10:12
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@RegDwigнt You're mistaken. That's the way I interpret(ed) the word, hence the question. Asking on purpose a question that can be easily resolved would be waste of everybody's time (border-line trolling). You need to keep in mind that some of us aren't NSEs and can miss an "obvious" thing (obvious to NSEs, that is). I didn't think of checking for different meanings of "shot" because I didn't realize that there could be such. After all - "gun to make a shot" => "shot-gun". –  Konrad Viltersten Jun 30 at 11:12
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@KonradViltersten, I think the point is more that (a) you were googling "riding shotgun" already and (b) if you'd googled for "shotgun", the immediate wikipedia result would have told you explicitly the exact detail that you were questioning (shotgun == "scattergun / pelletgun", for firing "shot" (with a link to its definition, even)). –  Hellion Jun 30 at 17:32

2 Answers 2

up vote 52 down vote accepted

The "shot" in shotgun refers to the ammunition that the gun fires. Whereas a pistol or rifle fires bullets (single metal balls), a shotgun fires a shell packed with shot (hundreds of tiny metal balls).

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The word "sluggun" wouldn't sound as descriptive. –  Mr Lister Jun 29 at 7:04
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@vality: I think the reason is that the style of gun got its name from its capability to fire shot. However, some time after the name for the style of gun was established, firing shot ceased to be the defining characteristic of the type. Hence you can have "shotguns" that primarily or only fire slugs. –  Steve Jessop Jun 29 at 9:38
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Guns (and cannons) are not the only things that can be shot, such as a shot of whiskey or tequila, so both parts, shot and gun are required to be reasonably specific. –  BeowulfNode42 Jun 29 at 12:51
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Aha - my ignorance was the issue here. I thought "shot" was a noun of "to shoot" and not "bunch of small pieces". Cool! –  Konrad Viltersten Jun 29 at 16:01
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Exactly - OP was thinking of it a bit backwards. Gun doesn't specify the shot, shot specifies the gun. –  tenfour Jun 29 at 20:15

There are other things that shoot 'shot'. Cannons fired grapeshot as an effective way to deal with infantry. This makes a 'shotgun' just a gun that shoots shot instead of a cannon that does so. This clever naming scheme is also visible for 'rifles' which are simply guns with barrels that have been rifled.

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protected by tchrist Jul 2 at 3:16

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