Online Encyclopedia


Online Encyclopedia
Originally appearing in Volume V12, Page 718 of the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica.
Spread the word: it!
GUN, a general term for a weapon, tubular in form, from which a projectile is discharged by means of an explosive. When applied to artillery the word is confined to those pieces of ordnance which have a direct as opposed to a high-angle fire, in which case the terms " howitzer " and " mortar " are used (see ORDNANCE and MACHINE-GUN). " Gun " as applied to firearms which are carried in the hand and fired from the shoulder, the old " hand gun," is now chiefly used of the sporting shot-gun, with which this article mainly deals; in military usage this type of weapon, whether rifle, carbine, &c., is known collectively as " small arms " (see RIFLE and PISTOL). The origin of the word, which in Mid. Eng. is gonne or gunne, is obscure, but it has been suggested by Professor W. W. Skeat that it conceals a female name, Gunnilde or Gunhilda. The names; e.g. Mons Meg at Edinburgh Castle and faule Grete (heavy Peg), known to readers of Carlyle's Frederick the Great, will be familiar parallel-isms. " Gunne " would be a shortened " pet name " of Gunnhilde. The New English Dictionary finds support for the suggestion in the fact that in Old Norwegian gunne and hilde both mean " war," and quotes an inventory of war material at Windsor Castle in 1330-1331, where is mentioned " una magna balista de cornu quae vocatur Domina Gunilda." Another suggestion for the origin of the word is that the word representsa shortened form, gonne, of a supposed French mangonne, a mangonel, but the French word is mangonneau. Firearms are said to have been first used in European warfare in the 14th century. The hand gun (see fig. 1) came into practical use in 1446 and was of very rude construction. It consisted of a simple iron or brass tube with a touch-hole at the top fixed in a straight stock of wood, the end of which passed under the a right armpit when the " gonne " was about to be fired. A similar weapon (see fig. 2) was FIG. 1.—Hand Gun. also used by the horse-soldier, with a ring at the end of the stock, by which it was suspended by a cord round the neck; a forked rest, fitted by a ring to the saddlebow, served to steady the gun. This rest, when not in use, hung down in front of the right leg. A match was made of cotton or hemp spun slack, and boiled in a strong solution of saltpetre or in the lees of wine. The touch-hole was first placed on the top of the barrel, but afterwards at the side, with a small pan underneath to hold the priming, and guarded by a cover moving on a pivot. An improvement in firearms took place in the first year of the reign of Henry VII., or at the close of Edward IV., by fixing a cock (Fr. serpentine) on the hand gun to hold the match, which was brought down to the priming by a trigger, whence the term matchlock. This weapon is still in use among the Chinese, Tatars, Sikhs, Persians and Turks. An improvement in the stock was also made during this period by forming it with a wide butt end to be placed against the right breast. Subsequently the stock was bent, a German invention, and the arm was called a hackbutt or hagbut, and the smaller variety a demihague. The arquebus and hackbutt were about a yard in length, including barrel and stock, and the demihague was about half the size and weight, the forerunner of the pistol. The arquebus was the standard infantry firearm in Europe from the battle of Pavia to the introduction of the heavier and more powerful musket. It did not as a rule require a rest, as did the musket. The wheel-lock, an improvement on the match-lock, was in- vented in Nuremberg in 1517; was first used at the siege of Parma in 1521; was brought to England in 1530, and continued in partial use there until the time of Charles II. This wheel-lock consisted of a fluted or grooved steel wheel which protruded into the priming pan, and was connected with a strong spring. The cock, also regulated by a spring, was fitted with a piece of iron pyrites. In order to discharge the gun the with Hand Gun. From General Hardy de Perini's Turenne e! Conde 1626-1675. lock was wound up by a key, the cock was let down on the priming pan, the pyrites resting on the wheel; on the trigger being pressed the wheel was released and rapidly revolved, emitting sparks, which ignited the powder in the pan. The complicated and expensive nature of this lock, with its liability to injury, no doubt prevented its general adoption. About 1540 the Spaniards constructed a larger and heavier firearm (matchlock), carrying a ball of to to the pound, called a musket. This weapon was introduced into England before the middle of the 16th century, and soon came into general use throughout Europe. The snaphance was invented about this period in Germany, and from its comparative cheapness was From General Hardy de Perini's Turenne el Conde, 1626-1679.
End of Article: GUN

Additional information and Comments

There are no comments yet for this article.
» Add information or comments to this article.
Please link directly to this article:
Highlight the code below, right click and select "copy." Paste it into a website, email, or other HTML document.