A shot across the bow

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A shot across the bow is an idiom with an interesting origin. We will examine the meaning of the idiom a shot across the bow, where it came from, and some examples of its idiomatic usage in sentences.

A shot across the bow is an idiom that means a warning, a notice that the one who fires is prepared to do battle. As may be expected, a shot across the bow is derived from a very real naval war tactic from the 1800s that was commonly used in the British navy. A ship may fire a harmless cannon shot across the end of an opposing ship to signal willingness to engage in a battle unless the ship under fire surrenders. The expression a shot across the bow did not take on a figurative sense until the 1930s, when it came to mean a fairly harmless challenge from an opponent that could turn into a furious figurative battle if the victim did not take heed.


Last week, the American Federation of Teachers sent a shot across the bow at its biennial convention by preapproving “safety strikes,” calling them a “last resort” against “unsafe school reopening plans.” (The Washington Times)

It’s also unclear how much patients would actually save under the orders and Trump himself seemed to indicate that they’re more of a shot across the bow at a generally unpopular industry. (Fortune Magazine)

With YouTube now openly censoring firearm-related content and other social media platforms like Twitter and Facebook beginning to follow suit, some Americans view the recent changes as a shot across the bow against their constitutional rights. (St. George News)