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Down to the short strokes

Posted by Smokey Stover on October 11, 2008 at 01:44

In Reply to: Down to the short strokes posted by Cliff Bowman on October 10, 2008 at 20:46:

: : : : : : CNN anchor John Roberts was talking about the rapidly approaching U.S. presidential election on Nov. 4. It's getting down to the short strokes, he said. Does that mean what I think it means?

: : : : : Yes (I hope), it refers to putting in golf.

: : : : Oh. Now I'm embarrassed.

Am I wrong, or is the use of the term "wad" in "shoot one's wad" derivative from the wad often shot from guns? If so, then shooting one's wad is a metaphor with a respectable history, even if the term itself is used for something of dubious respectability as a conversational topic in polite circles.

: : : Don't be, ESC. I too would have thought it referred to putting in something else. ~rb

: : We may never know if the golf reference was influenced by the other pasttime.

: : A couple of decades ago I was watching a network news broadcast when a female reporter doing what must have been a live report mentioned that someone had "shot their wad" in the political sense but I was shocked that she used that term and I wondered if she knew what it meant. I just checked and they say it's becoming more mainstream and is even used in boardroom discussions, but I don't think there is a "wad" in golf so I wonder how it's explained to people who are unfamliar with it.

: William Safire seems to agree with ESC's intuition. (The reference is on the second page.) As Safire says, "overt usage purifies, and common usage cleanses."

: --Cliff

I don't think that "short strokes" has anything to do with shooting one's wad, but I've an opinion to offer on the latter. "Wad" comes from the wad or wadding used in a gun, to separate the shot from the powder. Obviously, when you shoot, the wad, as well as the shot, comes whizzing out. The first uses of "shoot one's wad" seem compatible with a meaning similar to having taken one's shot. "He shot his wad," it seems to me, can be used as equivalent to, "He's had his shot," or "He's taken his shot"--that is, he tried his best, to no avail. Everyone knows the metaphor that this one has given rise to--indeed, it seems almost inevitable.

Perhaps it sounds more polite to say, "He's shot his bolt," which means roughly the same, in the polite way.