- gun (n.)
- mid-14c., gunne "an engine of war that throws rocks, arrows or other missiles," probably a shortening of woman's name Gunilda, found in Middle English gonnilde "cannon" and in an Anglo-Latin reference to a specific gun from a 1330 munitions inventory of Windsor Castle ("...una magna balista de cornu quae Domina Gunilda ..."), from Old Norse Gunnhildr, woman's name, from gunnr + hildr, both meaning "war, battle." First element from PIE *gwhen- "to strike, kill" (see bane); for second, see Hilda. The identification of women with powerful weapons is common historically (such as Big Bertha, Brown Bess, Mons Meg, etc.). Perhaps influenced by or confirmed by Old French engon, dialectal variant of engin "engine."
Meaning shifted with technology, from cannons to firearms as they developed 15c. Great guns (cannon, etc.) distinguished from small guns (such as muskets) from c. 1400. Applied to pistols and revolvers after 1744. Meaning "thief, rascal" is from 1858. For son of a gun, see son. To jump the gun (1912, American English) is from track and field. Guns "a woman's breasts" (especially if prominent) attested by 2006.
[G]un covers firearms from the heaviest naval or siege guns (but in technical use excluding mortars and howitzers) to the soldier's rifle or the sportsman's shotgun, and in current U.S. use even the gangster's revolver. In the other European languages there is no such comprehensive word, but different terms for the small or hand gun of the soldier or sportsman (even these, sometimes differentiated) and the heavy naval guns or artillery pieces .... [Buck, 1949]
- gun (v.)
- "shoot with a gun," 1620s, from gun (n.). Related: Gunned; gunning. The sense of "accelerate an engine" is from 1930, from earlier phrase give (her) the gun (1917), which appears to have originated in pilots' jargon in World War I; perhaps from the old military expression give a gun "order a gun to be fired" (c. 1600).