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On a different board, someone referred to a computer language that had achieved popularity beyond the academic world as "used in anger", the way a shot fired in combat instead of on the practice range is said to be "fired in anger". A Google search returned only people wondering, effectively, wtf?

Is this an actual expression or I am being put on?

EDIT

I think I didn't make myself clear: I've heard "used in anger" in plenty of cases where anger seemed more or less appropriate -- weapons, armies, that kind of things. Does anyone have a cite where the phrase has become detached from any aggressive context?

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I didn't make myself clear enough at the end of my answer; I have used "used in anger" for most of my life (I learned it from my dad; he also has lived in the US all his life, so if it's a Britishism it's a damn sneaky one.) I have a bit of a Harbor Freight and Home Depot addiction; our garage is cluttered with various <strike>toys</strike> tools which I've never used in anger. There are plenty of hits on Google; of formal citations, sadly quite few (see @kiamlaluno's answer for just about all of them.) –  MT_Head Jun 22 '11 at 6:09
    
@MT_Head -- @kiamlaluno's examples were stocks, manacles, handcuffs, a giant magnifying glass, nuclear weapons, and a Stealth bomber, all of them exactly the kind of anger-related items I was used to (except the magnifying glass, but that's in a list of police equipment). Your tool collection would be a great example of what I'm looking for; I'd love to find something like that in print. –  Malvolio Jun 22 '11 at 7:09
    
Actually, in one of my examples, used in anger is referred to display, which is used to mean "performance, show, or event intended for public entertainment." –  kiamlaluno Jun 22 '11 at 7:59
    
I've definitely used the phrase about computer languages, tools, and libraries. I might say I have some WPF experience, having written a few demos, but I've never used it in anger. It doesn't mean my mood but rather "used it for real" I suppose. I do have a British background though I live in Canada now. –  Kate Gregory Dec 30 '11 at 20:18
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8 Answers

Thanks for MT_head's etymology - it is generally used in British English to mean used for its intended purpose, or used for real rather than in tests.

It's not necessarily used in a military context.

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I'm a bit late to the party here, but I'm surprised to see that all existing citations have at the very least overtones of conflict / confrontation.

I didn't have any problem finding plenty of instances like this one, where it simply means in earnest, for real. Just search for used in anger in NGram, and skip every reference followed by management.

I won't bother adding links for more than one, but trust me it's not difficult to meet OP's request and cite usages "detached from any aggressive context".

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Simply put: shots "fired in anger" are distinct from those fired in practice. If we say that something has never been used in anger, we mean, by implication, that it has never seen the fullness of the use for which it was intended, and may therefore be assumed to be untested, or at least untried in the heat of battle. It's a common metaphor in widespread use. I have no reason to believe it is solely British.

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From The life, adventures, and opinions of Col. George Hanger: Written by himself, (1801 - the cited passage was written in 1798):

As there are many of our generals, and by far the greatest number of field officers, who never saw a shot fired in anger in their lives; both for the satisfaction of the common soldier, and for the honour and interest of my country, I propose that every general and field officer, who has not seen active service before they be permitted to take upon them the command of a brigade or regiment, shall be commanded to walk backwards and forwards for one quarter of an hour behind a canvas screen, about eight feet high, placed in front of a battalion of infantry, the men firing all the time as quick as possible at the cloth.

Colonel Hanger was a British officer during the American Revolution (or "the recent unpleasantness", as I suppose they call it back in dear old Blighty), but this is definitely not just a British expression; I've been hearing and using it for most of my life, usually ironically.

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Operation 'get rid of the bits of Canada that are worthless' i think it was known as at the time. –  mgb Jun 22 '11 at 3:01
    
It worked brilliantly! Pity about poor old King George and the clocks, though. Someone should have let him in on the plan. –  MT_Head Jun 22 '11 at 3:08
    
OP specifically asked for a 'non-aggressive' usage, not a reference to actual use of firearms. –  FumbleFingers Jun 28 '11 at 4:37
    
@Fumble - I answered before his edit. See the comment thread on the question. –  MT_Head Jun 28 '11 at 4:41
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The references to weapons being "used in anger" may well have been the initial (ie: original) usage of the phrase. However, use of this phrase in common parlance has to some extent watered down the rather violent implications. Any item or facility which is being "used in anger" is being utilized to its fullest extent, or employing all its intended features.

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I disagree that "used in anger" carries any significant implications of "to the fullest extent", except insofar as that's associated with the basic sense - "not for practice/testing purposes". –  FumbleFingers Mar 27 '12 at 18:59
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Looking at the British National Corpus, I have found a phrase where used in anger is used.

They form part of a Law and Order exhibition which extends to stocks, manacles, handcuffs, and even a giant magnifying glass. […] Most of the display has never been used in anger, or self defence.

Also the Corpus of Contemporary American English contains phrases with used in anger.

I think it's fairly safe to predict that you'll be seeing nuclear weapons used in anger in the Middle East within the space of, say, five to 10 years.—ABC Nightline, Iraqi Nuclear Threat (1990)

Radio Free Europe's tradition of thoroughgoing identification with its audiences has redounded to the great benefit of American public diplomacy, and at surprisingly little cost to the American taxpayer -- an annual expenditure of less than half the cost of a single Stealth bomber (which will probably never be used in anger).—National Review, Radio Freeing Europe (1990)

Both the corpora have the exact number of phrases containing used in anger (3).

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A common cliche in British professional football (soccer) is "before a ball is kicked in anger", which means "before the season has started".

I have always found it rather silly as i could not work out what the "anger" meant and doubted that anyone who used it either does.

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I assume this cliche at least started out tongue in cheek. –  Peter Shor Mar 27 '12 at 13:07
    
It's also just quite common to use military analogies in sport, hence the use of terms like territorial advantage, attack, defend, shoot, etc., all in an attempt to emerge victorious from the field (of play)... –  scottishwildcat Mar 27 '12 at 17:06
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Military Phrase. Meaning used for real rather than in practice.

Suggesting that a military item (Gun, tanks etc) has not been tested properly unless it has been “Used in Anger” or in Battle.

Sorry another of a long list of “Britishisms” many of which the original meaning is lost in the “Mists of time”

We are as someone once said “Two nations separated by a Common Language”

We can use it many ways. One I like is when driving a sports car on the road. "I have not driven this one in anger yet." meaning I have not given the car some serious stick.

Or having practiced with something and be looking forward to using it for real. "I cannot wait to use this in Anger."

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Welcome to ELU. Can you back up your statements with references to sources? –  teylyn Jun 7 '13 at 14:18
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