Etymology
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barrel (n.)

"cylindrical vessel or cask, generally bulging in the middle and made of wooden staves bound by hoops," c. 1300, from Old French baril "barrel, cask, vat" (12c.), with cognates in all Romance languages (Italian barile, Spanish barril, etc.), but of unknown origin. Also a measure of capacity of varying quantity.

The meaning "metal tube of a gun" is from 1640s. Barrel-roll (n.) in aeronautics is from 1920. To be over a barrel figuratively, "in a helpless or vulnerable condition," is by 1914 and might suggest corporal punishment.

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muzzle (n.)

late 14c., mosel, "device put over an animal's mouth to stop it from biting, eating, or rooting," from Old French musel "muzzle," also "snout, nose" (12c., Modern French museau), from muse "muzzle," from Gallo-Roman *musa "snout" (source also of Provençal mus, Old Spanish mus, Italian muso), a word of unknown origin, possibly related to Latin morsus "bite" (but OED finds "serious difficulties" with this).

Meaning "projecting jaws and nose of the head of an animal" is from early 15c.; sense of "open end of a firearm" is recorded from 1560s. Muzzle-loader "gun loaded from the muzzle" (opposed to breech-loader) is by 1858.

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smoke (v.)

Old English smocian "to produce smoke, emit smoke," especially as a result of burning, from smoke (n.1). Meaning "to drive out or away or into the open by means of smoke" is attested from 1590s. Meaning "to apply smoke to, to cure (bacon, fish, etc.) by exposure to smoke" is first attested 1590s. In connection with tobacco, "draw fumes from burning into the mouth," first recorded 1604 in James I's "Counterblast to Tobacco." Related: Smoked; smoking. Smoking gun in the figurative sense of "incontestable evidence" is from 1974.

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thunder (n.)

mid-13c., from Old English þunor "thunder, thunderclap; the god Thor," from Proto-Germanic *thunraz (source also of Old Norse þorr, Old Frisian thuner, Middle Dutch donre, Dutch donder, Old High German donar, German Donner "thunder"), from PIE *(s)tene- "to resound, thunder" (source also of Sanskrit tanayitnuh "thundering," Persian tundar "thunder," Latin tonare "to thunder"). Swedish tordön is literally "Thor's din." The unetymological -d- also is found in Dutch and Icelandic versions of the word (compare sound (n.1)). Thunder-stick, imagined word used by primitive peoples for "gun," attested from 1904.

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dreadnought (n.)

literally (one who or that which) "fears nothing," from the verbal phrase (drede ich nawiht is attested from c. 1200); see dread (v.) + nought (n.). As a synonym for "battleship" (1916) it is from a specific ship's name. Dreadnought is mentioned as the name of a ship in the Royal Navy as early as c. 1596, but the modern generic sense is from the name of the first of a new class of British battleships, based on the "all big-gun" principle (armed with 10 big guns rather than 4 large guns and a battery of smaller ones), launched Feb. 18, 1906.

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rifle (n.)

"portable firearm having a barrel or barrels with a spirally grooved bore," by 1775; the word was used earlier of the grooves themselves (1751), and is a noun use from rifled pistol, 1680s, from the verb rifle meaning "to cut spiral grooves in" (a gun barrel); see rifle (v.2).

The spirals impart rotation to the projectile, making its flight more accurate. Rifles "troops armed with rifles," sometimes as part of a unit name, is by 1843. Rifle-range is from 1850 as "distance a rifle-ball will carry" (also, and earlier rifle-shot, 1803); the meaning "place for rifle shooting" is by 1862. Rifle-ball is by 1884; the  word continued in use after cylindrical bullets with conical heads replaced round ones.

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shooting (n.)

Old English scotung, "action of one who shoots" (an arrow from a bow), verbal noun from the source of shoot (v.). By 1640s as "the sport of killing game with a gun;" the modern athletic contest sense is by 1885. By 1873 as "an incident in which someone is shot with a firearm." The film-camera sense is by 1920.

Shooting iron "firearm" is by 1775 (Sam Adams) in American English colloquial; shooting gallery is from 1836, originally a long room having a target at one end and arranged for firearms practice; shooting match as "marksmanship contest" is from 1750. Shooting star "meteor" is recorded by 1590s (the verb shoot with reference to meteors is from late 13c.; shot star for "shooting star" is attested from 1630s).

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level (v.)

mid-15c., "to make level" (transitive), from level (n.). From c. 1600 as "to bring to a level." Intransitive sense "cease increasing" is from 1958. Meaning "to aim (a gun)" is late 15c. Slang sense of "tell the truth, be honest" is from 1920. To level up "to rise" is attested by 1863.

A word here as to the misconception labored under by our English neighbor; he evidently does not understand the American manner of doing things. We never level down in this country; we are always at work on the up grade. "Level up! Level up!" is the motto of the American people. [James E. Garretson, "Professional Education," in "The Dental Cosmos," Philadelphia, 1865]

Modern use is mostly from computer gaming (2001). To level off "cease rising or falling" is from 1920, originally in aviation. Related: Leveled; leveling.

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tank (n.)

1610s, "pool or lake for irrigation or drinking water," a word originally brought by the Portuguese from India, from a Hindi source, such as Gujarati tankh "cistern, underground reservoir for water," Marathi tanken, or tanka "reservoir of water, tank." Perhaps ultimately from Sanskrit tadaga-m "pond, lake pool," and reinforced in later sense of "large artificial container for liquid" (1680s) by Portuguese tanque "reservoir," from estancar "hold back a current of water," from Vulgar Latin *stanticare (see stanch). But other sources say the Portuguese word is the source of the Indian ones. 

Meaning "fuel container" is recorded from 1902. Slang meaning "detention cell" is from 1912. Railroad tank-car is from 1874.

In military use, "armored, gun-mounted vehicle moving on continuous articulated tracks," the word originated late 1915. In "Tanks in the Great War" [1920], Brevet Col. J.F.C. Fuller quotes a memorandum of the Committee of Imperial Defence dated Dec. 24, 1915, recommending the proposed "caterpillar machine-gun destroyer" machines be entrusted to an organization "which, for secrecy, shall be called the 'Tank Supply Committee,' ..." In a footnote, Fuller writes, "This is the first appearance of the word 'tank' in the history of the machine." He writes that "cistern" and "reservoir" also were put forth as possible cover names, "all of which were applicable to the steel-like structure of the machines in the early stages of manufacture. Because it was less clumsy and monosyllabic, the name 'tank' was decided on." They were first used in action at Pozieres ridge, on the Western Front, Sept. 15, 1916, and the name was quickly picked up by the soldiers. Tank-trap attested from 1920.

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shy (adj.)

Middle English shei, "easily frightened or startled," from late Old English sceoh "timid, easily startled," from Proto-Germanic *skeukh(w)az "afraid" (source also of Middle Low German schüwe, Dutch schuw, German scheu "shy;" Old High German sciuhen, German scheuchen "to scare away"). Cognates outside Germanic are uncertain, unless perhaps in Old Church Slavonic shchuti "to hunt, incite." Italian schivare "to avoid," Old French eschiver "to shun" are Germanic loan-words.

The meaning "shrinking from contact with others, difficult of approach because of timidity" is by c. 1600. The meaning "lacking, short of" is from 1895, American English gambling slang. As the last element of a compound (gun-shy, etc.) "frightened, averse, reluctant," by 1849.

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