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"Well, you've probably never been in a tighter place than you are today! If there's a lunatic hiding on this island, he's probably got a young arsenal on him - to say nothing of a knife or dagger or two."

Agatha Christie - And Then There Were None.

What does "young" mean here?

From context it could mean "small" or be an intensifier. I don't see these uses listed by online dictionaries, even as archaic. The sense of being recent doesn't seem to apply, but is another possibility.

2 Answers 2

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I've come across this usage, but I can't find it in the usual online dictionaries (Lexico, Collins, AHD, CED, M-W ...). I remember the expression 'young cannon', so I've searched for this.

From an article from 'The Authentic Campaigner', reviewing Three Years in the Confederate Horse Artillery (tidied) by George Neese:

August 25 (1862) The sharpshooters were firing at each other across the river all night; The Yanks made three attempts last night to burn the bridge but our sharpshooters drove them back every time. This morning the Yanks on the hill near the bridge were firing swivels at us. A swivel is a species of young cannon – light, and mounted on a tripod that looks something like a surveyor's compass. The barrel is fixed on a swivel or turning point. The ones the Yanks fired at us this morning threw a shot about the size of a walnut. However I did not see any of them. I judge the size only by the keen whiz they made as they sped past us. I wonder what these Pope Yanks will try on us next – shoot a blacksmith shop or a buzz saw at us I expect. This forenoon we moved back to our wagons, about three miles from Waterloo bridge....

The poster comments:

This is a first for me I've ever read of swivel guns being used by land forces: I've always considered them a ship feature. After all, what use is a small caliber round against artillery in the field? [Gary Mitchell, 2nd Va. Cavalry Co. C, Stuart's horse artillery]

So a 'not quite' cannon.

A downtoner usage, not an intensifier. An archaic (the Christie example probably thwarts the 'obsolete' labelling) usage, but still sounding better than say 'He had what could almost be considered an arsenal with him.'

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  • 2
    Is this possibly related to modern adj “baby”?
    – StephenS
    Nov 29, 2020 at 15:11
  • 2
    Yes, I would understand it to mean 'a small version of' something. Nov 29, 2020 at 15:17
  • 1
    @StephenS It's the same metaphor, 'young/baby' = 'embryonic' = 'not quite full-blown'. Nov 29, 2020 at 17:15
  • 1
    :-@ – jamesqf But surely, if it's still commonly used, you can readily find a few examples using a Google search? Use -Gunners -FC -Wenger -football -soccer etc filters. Nov 29, 2020 at 17:56
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    A couple of my secondary school teachers used this in the UK in the 1960s. If they were looking for a one-word or one-sentence answer and got something longer, they would complain that they didn't want a "young essay."
    – alephzero
    Nov 30, 2020 at 1:20
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The oldest use I can find is from Google Books

What do they have such a young arsenal in the house for? They treat us very well, but we don't know anything about them ; we might wake up any morning with our throats cut ...

The Princess of Montserrat: A Strange Narrative of Adventure ...books.google.co.uk › books - William Drysdale - 1890

My best guess is that "young" is used in contrast to "mature". Although I don't see any references to "mature arsenal", I do see some that refer to a mature collection I searched for this because it is a term I am familiar with.

Conclusion

Although I cannot be certain, I believe that "young arsenal" refers to a collection of weapons that is still growing but is in its initial stages. Eventually it will become a mature collection.

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  • I'd disagree with the "still growing" meaning. Rather, it's a rather complicated way of expressing the large size. That is, an arsenal is mainly understood to be a weapons depot for an army, so calling a personal collection of weapons a "young arsenal" expresses the idea that it's an extraordinarily large amount for an individual or small group.
    – jamesqf
    Nov 30, 2020 at 0:57
  • To wit: we might today refer to a "fledgling arsenal" with the same intended meaning.
    – Matthew
    Nov 30, 2020 at 16:39

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