Son of a gun

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Son of a gun is an exclamation or a noun in American and British English. It can be used encouragingly or to compliment, as in "You son of a gun, you did it!"


The Cambridge Advanced Learner's Dictionary and Webster's Dictionary both define "son of a gun" in American English as a euphemism for son of a bitch.[1][2] Encarta Dictionary defines the term in a different way as someone "affectionately or kindly regarded."[3] The term can also be used as an interjection expressing surprise, mild annoyance or disappointment.[2][3]


A 19th-century gun deck (HMS Victory).

The phrase potentially has its origin in a Royal Navy requirement that pregnant women aboard naval vessels give birth in the space between the broadside guns, in order to keep the gangways and crew decks clear.[4] Admiral William Henry Smyth wrote in his 1867 book, The Sailor's Word-Book: "Son of a gun, an epithet conveying contempt in a slight degree, and originally applied to boys born afloat, when women were permitted to accompany their husbands to sea; one admiral declared he literally was thus cradled, under the breast of a gun-carriage."[5]

Alternatively, historian Brian Downing proposes that the phrase "son of a gun" originated from feudal knights' disdain for newly developed firearms and those who wielded them.[6] An American urban myth also proposes that the saying originated in a story reported in the October 7, 1864 The American Medical Weekly about a woman impregnated by a bullet that went through a soldier's scrotum and into her abdomen. The story about the woman was a joke written by Dr. Legrand G. Capers; some people who read the weekly failed to realize that the story was a joke and reported it as true.[7] This myth was the subject of an episode of the television show MythBusters, in which experiments showed the story implausible.[8]


  1. ^ "Cambridge Advanced Learner's Dictionary entry". Retrieved 2006-06-02. 
  2. ^ a b "Webster's Dictionary entry". Retrieved 2006-06-02. 
  3. ^ a b Encarta Dictionary entry. Archived from the original on 2007-11-11. Retrieved 2006-06-02. 
  4. ^ Kemp, Peter (1970). The British Sailor: a social history of the lower deck. London: J.M. Dent & Sons. p. 196. ISBN 0460039571. 
  5. ^ Smyth, W.H. (2005). The Sailor's Word-Book: The Classic Dictionary of Nautical Terms. London: Conway Maritime. ISBN 0-85177-972-7. 
  6. ^ Downing, Brian (1992). The Military Revolution and Political Change: Origins of Democracy and Autocracy in Early Modern Europe. Princeton University Press. p. xi. ISBN 0691078866. 
  7. ^ "Bullet Pregnancy". Snopes. Retrieved July 21, 2005. 
  8. ^ "MythBusters Results". Retrieved 4 October 2013.