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I found the expression (Obama needs to present the Congress) smaller-bore job proposal in the August 22 article of Washington Times written by Chris Cillizza under the title Economy has Obama facing major political test — and Democratic strategists divided.

The text reads:

Some suggested that Obama needs to think big when it comes to his jobs proposal. -- “Go long and big,” said Steve Rosenthal, a senior party strategist. -- Others advised him to take it one step at a time, forcing a series of votes on smaller-bore jobs proposals rather than going for one major victory.

I understand that bore means diameter of a pipe and tube and caliber of a gun, hence it means sharply focused proposal on job creation. However, it’s the first time for me to see the word small bore being used as “smaller-bore proposal (or plan).” Is this just a casual expression in English, or rather a stylish expression of the writer? Can I use “small-bore” casually, like ‘He made a small-bore remark on the nuclear power issue,’ instead of a hard-edged remark?

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up vote 2 down vote accepted

You can use "small-bore" casually and people may understand what you mean. However, the phrase has strong ties to the gun world. So, if you use it, you will want to keep your audience in mind.

For example, I would try to avoid that phrase when speaking to a teacher's union or animal rights activist. However, the phrase would be accepted when speaking at a gun club or when dealing with hot-button issues (religion and politics are good examples).

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According to Dictionary.com, there are two definitions for small-bore:


  1. of, noting, or relating to a .22-caliber firearm.
  2. insular or parochial in scope, attitude, etc.: small-bore officials.

So, a smaller-bore proposal is one that is "more small-bore". That is, it is more insular in scope. So instead of focusing on "one major victory", the passage is saying the the president should focus on smaller areas in which he can reliably affect change.

I had not heard the phrase before you mentioned it, and am not sure how common it is. A quick search of "small bore" finds more hits for the actual gun than for the idiomatic meaning. However, because it has found its way into dictionaries you can expect some (but not all) people to understand it.

As the meaning of hard-edged that I'm familiar with is "severe", I don't think it is a good synonym for "small-bore" or "smaller-bore" (though you may use the phrase differently than I do). However, related phrases are:

  • smaller scale
  • more manageable
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