What's the origin of the phrase "shot away" as meaning a person is behaving in an unhinged manner?

  • Do you have evidence that it is used that way? I think of it as meaning "left very quickly" – Unrelated Jul 18 '18 at 16:03
  • I cannot find any general reference to support this, except Urban Dict. The rest is just Rolling Stones. – Cascabel Jul 18 '18 at 16:06
  • @Unrelated conversations around Southern England for years, but nothing in print. – StuperUser Jul 18 '18 at 16:10
  • If you stuck a bottle rocket in a bottle, pointed the bottle at an angle away from you, and then lit the rocket, you might say it "shot away". Nothing mysterious. Now consider when a person behaves emotionally like that rocket. – Hot Licks Jul 18 '18 at 22:19

Green's Dictionary of Slang offers this entry under the headword shot.

  1. (orig. Aus., also all shot, shot at, shot away, shot through) of a person, exhausted or in bad shape.

A variant of this is first attested in a quote by F. Scott Fitzgerald in 1920:

F.S. Fitzgerald ‘May Day’ in Bodley Head Scott Fitzgerald V (1963) 144: You certainly look all shot.

Not until 2000 does GDoS offer an attestation using the form "shot away," in the context of drugs:

2000 [UK] Indep. on Sun. Rev. 21 May 6: He was so shot away on pills and alcohol that he drove his car off the road.

It's tempting to attribute all variations of this to the verb shoot up meaning to intravenously inject a drug, but it's worth noting that variations referring to alcohol intoxication appear to be the oldest, such as this 1838 attestation of "half shot," meaning "slightly tipsy, or partially drunk."

1838 [US] J.C. Neal Charcoal Sketches (1865) 13: If your tongue wasn’t so thick, I’d say you must mosey: but moseying is only to be done when a gemman’s half shot.

It is worth noting that there are many citations of shot meaning drunk that predate the phrase shoot up meaning to inject a drug, which is first cited in 1905 by GDoS:

1905 [US] F. Hutchison Philosophy of Johnny the Gent 70: ‘[I]f a doctor hadn’t [...] shot him full o’ dope he’d ’a had the snakes on the square’.

It's possible the earlier references to being shot meaning drunk are figurative extensions of something that has been "shot by a gun."

For what it's worth, the OED indicates that a "shot" has been used to refer to a small portion of something since the 17th century -- this is likely the origin of the word shot in shotgun and shot-glass, as opposed to the inverse, which might seem more intuitive.

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  • Hello R...There seems to be a problem with your link: nowhere do I find the citation at Green's "(orig. Aus., also all shot, shot at, shot away, shot through) of a person, exhausted or in bad shape." I have done several [CTRL] F's. – Cascabel Jul 18 '18 at 22:27
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    @Cascabel You're right, thank you. I had linked to the noun entry instead of the adjective entry. – RaceYouAnytime Jul 18 '18 at 23:32

McGraw-Hill's Dictionary of American Slang says that is is a variant of shot up: (link)

  • and shot-away mod. alcohol or drug intoxicated. Well, you see, he’s shot-up and can’t come to the phone.

It appears to derive from shot-up with the meaning:

  • (noun Slang) an act or instance of injecting an addictive drug intravenously.

First recorded in 1965–70; noun use of verb phrase shoot up.

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shot etymology etymonline

Figurative sense "ruined, worn out" is from 1833.

a possible reference to a person's demeanor.

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