Words Mean Things -

Son of A Gun

By Mary E. Stephens
May 2017


Psalms 19:14 Let the words of my mouth, and the meditation of my heart, be acceptable in thy sight, O LORD, my strength, and my redeemer.

The expression "son of a gun" is fairly common in the U.S., I especially heard it when we lived in Arizona and perhaps other parts of the Southwest, which is not surprising as we'll see in a moment. Often it was used as an expression of surprise. Sometimes it may also be used as a sort of affectionate expression from a man to his friend or as a supposedly mild expletive of frustration.

There is some bit of disagreement as to where the expression originated but, from the sources I read, it is likely that the meaning I was told years ago is the correct meaning. Although many people who use it now don't realize it, it was originally a euphemism for "son of a b--." It would probably be more accurate to say that the "gun" refers to a rapist, rogue, or fornicating man and therefore may not necessarily be a slur on the woman so much as the man, unlike the other expression which is denouncing the woman's morals (rightly or wrongly, as the case may be).

In the British Royal Navy it was supposed to have referred to boys who were born on board ship; particularly ones whose fathers were of unknown identity. Apparently in the old days the British navy had a way of overlooking women accompanying men on board - either wives or prostitutes. This led to children being born on the ships whose parentage on their father's side was sometimes unclear. In these cases the "gun" referred to a soldier of unknown identity. It has also apparently been used to refer to the illegitimate children of servicemen (soldiers) in general.

Jump to the American West. I have been told that in the old days when the West was still very wild, "son of a gun" was used in a similar manner, but one indication I have heard is that the "gun" would refer to an outlaw type or perhaps a renegade cowboy. (In modern times "Gun for hire" would refer to the man as a murderer in a similar way - a "gun.") In these cases the women may not have been willing participants but were, in reality, raped.

Basically, what it comes down to is this: as Christians, we need to guard our tongues and the words we speak. I have heard Christians using this expression who very likely have no idea what it means or where it came from. Words do mean things, and sometimes they may mean things of which we are not aware and this could be a blot on our testimony. If you are using an expression of which you do not know the origin, I encourage you to do a little research on the internet. Type it into Google or your favorite search engine with the word "origin" or "definition" and it is likely you will learn at least something about it.

Colossians 4:6 Let your speech be alway with grace, seasoned with salt, that ye may know how ye ought to answer every man.

Proverbs 15:26 The thoughts of the wicked are an abomination to the LORD: but the words of the pure are pleasant words.



Background, photos, and graphics by Mary Stephens
CA; updated 2021