Words Mean Things

Hundreds of years ago, when most long guns were stocked to the muzzle, there was usually a metal part known as the muzzle cap at the end of the stock to protect the thin wood and end grain there.  The half stock rifle, with which we are all familiar, often has a cap at the forward end of the stock also, but since it’s not at the muzzle, we call it a nose cap or a forend cap.  The forward end, or forward portion of the stock, for hundreds of years, has been called the forend or forestock.  For some reason hardly anyone, it seems, uses these terms anymore.

When I tell someone they need a nose cap on their AK before they can use a standard forend, they’re at a loss to understand.  For one thing, it is no longer a forend but a handguard, and there is apparently no longer any such thing as a nose cap.  In these modern times, when we’re still using the exact same features, we need the new term “handguard retainer”.  If I try to add clarity by calling it a forend cap, it still doesn’t work.  I have to use some version of “That metal thingy what holds the handguard on at the front of the handguard” but that’s a lot more syllables than the centuries old “nose cap”.

“Stock forend” or “forestock” no longer works.  I hear “forearm” more often, but most common is “lower handguard” (but some AKs only have the one, so using “lower” only adds confusion.  If a rifle doesn’t have an arm or arms, then it cannot have a “forearm” (the forward portion of an arm).  Since a rifle is an “arm” (in a different sense of the word) then a “forearm” would be the muzzle, wouldn’t it, or the front sight or something out there?

What really throws me for a loop is the term “foregrip” which I always take to mean “forward pistol grip”.  We sell forward pistol grips, so when you ask me for a “foregrip” I can only conclude that you mean forward pistol grip, which is after all a “foregrip”  We sell forends too, but you need a nose cap for a standard forend.  “You know; that foregrip you sell” applies, potentially, to a wide spectrum of products.  When I ask, “Which one?” I almost always get a “what?” or a “the one you have on your web site”.  We have a lot of them on our web site, which you would know if you’d looked at it, which I assume you did or you wouldn’t be talking about it.  You might as well say, “You know– the one I’m thinking about.  I can see it right here in my mind– why can’t you see it in my mind?”

Do you know where your rifle stock’s heel, toe, comb, wrist, forend, nose and nose cap are located?  Or is each feature “That thingy, there, next to or at the end of that other doo-hicky, what holds the thing you hold on to…there…by the bracket”?  I swear; I have several conversations per day that go along those lines.

Recently I had a guy completely reiterate everything I said, “just to be clear” in his words.  He knew all the parts, he knew how to use the language, he knew what part he had called to talk about, and he got everything exactly right.  I had to take a break, take a deep breath, and tell everyone about it.

Anyway; I take the common misuse of terms, or unfamiliarity with the jargon, to mean that there are a lot of new gun owners out there, so I try to be as patient as I can.  The other day I told a guy he needed to be sure he got Picatinny rings for our M8 rail.  Problem was, he didn’t know what “Picatinny”, “rail”, or “rings” meant, nor “Leupold” nor “Burris”.  I had to explain the meaning and derivation of each term and how it applied to his situation.  “Leupold is a manufacturer of optics including rifle scopes…”  At one point in the conversation he said he’d have to call those folks at the Picatinny Arsenal and order some of those rings.  He ended up spending a couple hundred dollars with us, so I must not have sounded too exasperated with him.

While I’m at it; a sight is not a site.  This is the first time I have cited the use of “site” when “sight” would have been right.


9 thoughts on “Nomenclature…

  1. Welcome to the world of the evolution of language. It interesting stuff, especially when you experience it first hand. On the one hand, people are lazy, so they want to contract and shorten words and pronunciations, on the other hand, they want (like poets) to be expressive and unique in how they say things so they don’t sound all trite and well-worn in their phrasing, and of course, they invest new words when they are not familiar with existing technical jargon. Of course, you also have lairs, politicians, and marketers (but I repeat myself) who view a major part of their job to find new and unique ways to say nothing with a lot of words, or to say things that could mean almost anything. A great book on the subject is “the unfolding of language” by Guy Deutscher.

  2. Good point, Rolf. The “evolution” (or sometimes “devolution”) of language is both very interesting and very frustrating. Words mean things…until they don’t, or until they mean sommething else. Old texts then, are radioactive– their meaning decays over time. That’s the sad part. It is sometimes hard to be gay, but thanks for the intercourse.

  3. WRT the devolution of language, in one part of his book he cites writer after writer lamenting the decay of “today’s” language, and the glory and perfection of the “old days,” and each one he cites id a couple of hundred years further back, going all the way back to (or past? I forget) to ancient Greece praising even earlier greek forms.

  4. ‘When I use a word,’ Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, ‘it means just what I choose it to mean — neither more nor less.’

    That’s why we have part numbers.

  5. ‘The question is,’ said Alice, ‘whether you can make words mean so many different things.’

    ‘The question is,’ said Humpty Dumpty, ‘which is to be master — that’s all.’

    I strongly agree that a bar code is a darn useful thing – as long as the box it is on hasn’t been opened yet.

    Does anything you wrote about correspond to that “shoulder thingy that goes up” or any of the other items which, when 2 or more are gathered on any one firearm, defined an assault weapon under the AWB?

    I recall when Nixon introduced price controls. Sirloin steak had a price limit. Suddenly there was no more sirloin in butcher sections of the grocery stores. However, “London Broil” became instantly available. Oddly enough, it was the same part of the cow, cut just about the same, but was not under the price control regime.

    Funny thing, language.

  6. ??? I always heard it called a forend…did not know about the nose cap, but it seldom comes up. I also know what the heel, toe, and comb are…I’ve only been shooting for 2 years at that. Guess some people don’t do their own research, and/or are too lazy/afraid to attempt to DIY gunsmithing. (I can’t do everything, but before hiring someone I read up on it & try it if it sound feasible. Even if something gets destroyed, it’s usually cheaper to buy new parts than to pay someone else to fix my screwups)

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