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The meaning and origin of the expression: The shot heard 'round the world

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The shot heard 'round the world

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Meaning

A line from Emerson's Concord Hymn. Later used to denote shots of various forms that had international significance.

Origin

The phrase originates in Ralph Waldo Emerson's Concord Hymn, 1837 and relates to the start of the American Revolutionary War:

By the rude bridge that arched the flood,
Their flag to April's breeze unfurled;
Here once the embattled farmers stood;
And fired the shot heard 'round the world.

the shot heard 'round the worldOn 19 April 1775, on Lexington Square (Lexington is between Boston and Concord), the British Major John Pitcairn and his six light Infantry companies faced about seventy colonial militiamen. The details of the ensuing skirmish, and critically who fired the first shot, are disputed. What is clear is that this was "the shot heard 'round the world".

In his use of that phrase Emerson emphasized the wide importance of what might have been seen by those present as merely a local incident. He may have been alluding to the sharp crack that signalled the start of the war with the British and the 'no going back' nature of the starting point of conflict. The same notion was expressed lyrically in Fairport Convention's song Sloth:

Just a roll, just a roll
Just a roll on your drum
Just a roll, just a roll
And the war has begun.

It has also been suggested that the poet's imagery concerned the birth of a new nation and the death knell of the British Empire. Another suggestion is that Emerson was signalling the struggle for freedom against tyranny, as exemplified by the emerging American nation.

Once the phrase was known it was called into use again to denote various events of greater or lesser significance. Like the many things that are measured in yards that have been proposed as the origin of the whole nine yards there are several forms of shot - gun-shots and shots in a variety of sports (baseball, football, golf, tennis...). This allows for quite a wide scope when using the phrase.

principThe most famous of the later uses, and without doubt the most significant event, was the gun-shot that killed Archduke Franz Ferdinand. This is widely viewed as the event that precipitated the First World War. Gavrilo Princip assassinated Archduke Ferdinand of Austria on 28th June 1914. Princip also shot the Archduke's wife Duchess Sophie of Hohenberg but "the two shots that were heard around the world" doesn't have quite the same ring to it.

The phrase is nevertheless most used in the USA. In the sporting context there some less significant events that the phrase has been used for (although some sports fans might argue differently) are:

In golf: Gene Sarazen's double-eagle 2 at the Masters Tournament, 1935.

In baseball: Bobby Thomson's 1951 walk-off home run that won the National League for the New York Giants.

More recently the phrase has been used to describe Dick Cheney's accidental shooting of Harry Whittington in a hunting accident, which was seen as an embarrassment for the Bush administration.