In Reply to: Ready, aim, fire posted by RRC on September 23, 2009 at 16:55:
: : : There is a scene in the movie Ben Hur in which two fleets of ships engage in battle. At one point, deck hands are loading catapults with flaming pitch and an officer shouts out: "READY! AIM! FIRE!" I've always assumed that the phrase related to the use of guns and rifles, so hearing it used in another context intrigued me. I've not been able to find any internet references to the origin of the phrase and was wondering if anyone here might be able the shed some light on the subject.
: : There are a lot of stories about that film (many no doubt apocryphal: the red sports car, the wrist watches, the dying stuntman and so on) which cast some doubt on its historical veracity.
: : Of one thing I think we can be sure; that whatever order was given in first century Roman galleys, it wasn't 'Ready, aim, fire!'.
: : DFG
: Until Mel Gibson remakes the entire movie entirely in Latin, Greek, and Aramaic as he did for "The Passion of the Christ", the entire dialogue will be equally anachronistic. Sometime since "fire a gun" began to be used in 1530, we illogical human beings began to use fire to "fire a bullet" and then to "fire an arrow" even though no fire is involved. It became a synonym for merely "shoot".
The standard command in English to archers was, and I understand still is in archery circles, "Loose!" because that's what an archer does. I don't think any record exists of the the command to the crew of a Roman catapult, but it might well have been similarly specific to the precise action needed to work it - if you pulled a lever to set it off, the command might be the Latin for "Pull!" or whatever.
But whoever put "Ready, aim, fire" into the script really wasn't thinking at all about what he was writing, because one thing you simply can't do with a ballista or any such weapon once it's tensioned and loaded ready to go, is aim it! All you can do is either set it off or untension and unload it. (VSD)