A shot across the bow

  • A shot across the bow is an idiom with an interesting origin. An idiom is a word, group of words, or phrase that has a figurative meaning that is not easily deduced from its literal definition. Often using descriptive imagery or metaphors, common idioms are words and phrases used in the English language in order to convey a concise idea, and are often spoken or are considered informal or conversational. English idioms can illustrate emotion more quickly than a phrase that has a literal meaning, even when the etymology or origin of the idiomatic expression is lost. An idiom is a metaphorical figure of speech, and it is understood that it is not a use of literal language. Figures of speech like an often-used metaphor have definitions and connotations that go beyond the literal meaning of the words. Mastery of the turn of phrase of an idiom, which may use slang words or other parts of speech, is essential for the English learner. Many English as a Second Language students do not understand idiomatic expressions and idiomatic language such as in a blue moon, spill the beans, let the cat out of the bag, silver lining, back to the drawing board, barking up the wrong tree, kick the bucket, hit the nail on the head, face the music, under the weather, piece of cake, when pigs fly, and raining cats and dogs, because they attempt to translate them word for word, which yields only the literal meaning. English phrases that are idioms should not be taken literally. In addition to learning vocabulary and grammar, one must understand the phrasing of the figurative language of idiomatic phrases in order to know English like a native speaker; it is helpful to maintain a list of phrases, common expressions, and popular expressions to memorize that are used figuratively or idiomatically. 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)

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