Posted by ESC on May 05, 2003
In Reply to: Meaning of "Going off half cocked" posted by Dakota raised on May 04, 2003
: Act hastily.
: Flintlock rifles can be fired from full cock or half cock but only work well from full cock.
: I find this site interesting, but had to disagree somewhat with this meaning and origin.
: Flintlocks, as well as any 'hammer gun', that is to say a gun with an exposed hammer such as all the lever action Winchesters and Marlins and single action revolvers have a sear (notch) in the hammer which holds the hammer at 'half cock'. This is the 'safty'. If this sear is worn or defective the gun can go off unexpectedly, or "go off half cocked".
: I have always understood the meaning to act in a manner not expected, usually anger.
I don't know anything about guns. Here's what Mr. Funk has to say:
GOING OFF HALF-COCKED - "This is what we say in America; the British equivalent is 'to go off half-cock' or 'at half-cock.' Either way the meaning is to speak or do something hastily, without adequate preparation prematurely. The original reference, back in the middle to the eighteenth century, was to the musket which, if the hammer was cocked halfway, was supposed to be locked, safe against accidental discharge. But sometimes the mechanism was faulty, the hammer would be released, and the gun would be prematurely discharged, with the musketeer wholly unprepared." From "2107 Curious Word Origins, Sayings & Expressions from White Elephants to a Song and Dance" by Charles Earle Funk (Galahad Book, New York, 1993).