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Gun-shy is a hyphenated compound word that has been in use since the mid-1800s. A hyphenated compound word is one in which two or more separate words are joined together by hyphens. We will examine the definition of the word gun-shy, where it came from and some examples of its use in sentences.

Gun-shy describes someone or something that is skittish or wary. Gun-shy carries the connotation of someone or something that has been alarmed in a certain situation before, and is careful when confronting a similar situation. For instance, someone who has had a sad love affair and is reluctant to form a new romantic relationship may be called gun-shy. The term gun-shy is an adjective and first came into use in the mid-1800s to describe hunting dogs that became distressed or retreated at the sound of gunfire. The term gun-shy is still used in this manner today, but has also taken on a larger, figurative meaning to describe someone or something that is skittish for other reasons. Though the term gun-shy is often seen spelled without a hyphen, it is properly rendered with a hyphen.


If you’re a bit gun-shy because you’ve produced deflated Yorkies in the past, don’t worry: Dutch babies always seem to rise. (The Calgary Herald)

No one can blame the commissioners for being gun-shy about trying another sales tax request this year. (The Courier)

Referees were too gun-shy to penalise him because if they started penalising him then they would have to start penalising others. (The Sydney Morning Herald)

If trainers determine Apache is a little gun-shy, Smith said it’s possible he could be retired. (The Indianapolis Star)