Going off half cocked

Posted by Lewis on May 09, 2003

In Reply to: Going off half cocked posted by ESC on May 05, 2003

: : Meaning
: : Act hastily.
: : Origin
: : 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 Song and Dance by Charles Earle Funk (Galahad Book, New York, 1993).

My understanding is that the expression "half-cocked" came from firing-pieces - and simply means insufficiently possessed of the facts - to act without making sure of the true situation - to act precipitiously. I'm not sure how that matches up to the detail of the gun, but a gun being properly cocked is a deliberate act, for it to be half-cocked that suggests accidental firing and probably in the wrong direction, which is another inmlication of going off "half-cocked".
I'm not sure, but if a weapon is cocked, the trigger only requires a modest squeeze; if it is not cocked, the trigger needs to be pulled back with effort rather than squeezed which makes it less accurate as the barrel tends to be pulled upwards. Correct?