Over the edge with formulaic language

It looks simple at the start, but then (as Mark Liberman explained earlier today on Language Log, in “[REDACTED]’s “cocked and loaded”: a tangled history”), it gets intriguingly convoluted.

It starts with Iran shooting down an American drone, upon which Helmet Grabpussy first ordered a military strike on Iran and then called it back. Grabpussy tweeted:


And with “cocked & loaded”, we were off into the worlds of technical terminology, formulaic expressions, and speech errors — and then, thanks to Bill Maher, gay porn videos.

Early reportage. From a Reuters story yesterday, “[REDACTED]’s half-cocked and loaded tweet draws barrage of reaction”:

Washington (Reuters) – [REDACTED], whose Twitter malaprops often set off a deluge of social media criticism, was targeted on Friday for a linguistic misfire involving the phrase “locked and loaded.”

In a series of tweets on Friday morning [REDACTED] outlined why he said he had decided to call off a military strike on Iran he had planned in response to its having shot down a U.S. drone. He said he decided the estimated death toll of 150 would be a disproportionate response.

“We were cocked & loaded to retaliate last night on 3 different sights when I asked, how many will die,” wrote [REDACTED], an outspoken supporter of gun rights and the beneficiary of $30 million in National Rifle Association campaign spending.

Instead of “cocked & loaded,” [REDACTED] probably meant “locked and loaded” [what he meant to say is a matter for speculation, but this is what he should have said], which means to prepare a gun for immediate firing. Critics swarmed the internet to correct the term, as well as to point out that [REDACTED] had meant to say [i.e., should have written] “sites.”

Some relevant facts:

— A bit of specialized terminology in the gun world: lock and load is an instruction to prepare a gun for firing: a formula conveying ‘load [the ammunition] and then lock [the firing mechanism]’. (Note the shift in the order of the conjuncts; discussion below.)

— The PSP of this formula, locked and loaded, is a fairly common idiom, extended in sense from ‘(of a weapon) prepared (in a specific way) for firing’ to ‘ready for action’ (said of a soldier or a  military force, or more generally, of any person or group). The order of the conjuncts is not an issue, since the and can be taken as logical conjunction and not a connector in an an action sequence.

— A usage of cock, noun and verb, from the gun world. From NOAD:

noun cock: … 4 a firing lever in a gun which can be raised to be released by the trigger.

(#2) Cocking a pistol, from Bev Fitchett’s Guns Magazine

verb cock: … 2 raise the cock of (a gun) in order to make it ready for firing.

My 2/4/16 posting “Some news not for penises” discusses uses of cock and dick that don’t involve the sexual slang terms, including cock a gun.

— Possible sources of cocked and loaded as an error for locked and loaded: cocked and loaded now looks like some kind of combination of locked and loaded and cock(ed) a gun, either in a malapropism (in which the speaker mistakenly believes the idiom to be cocked and loaded) or in an inadvertent syntactic blend of the two expressions.

— But things are even more complex than that, since there is in fact a formulaic expression cocked and loaded in the gun world — just one not nearly as widespread as locked and loaded and, so far as I can tell, occurring only as a specialized use of the literal coordination of cocked and loaded, denoting a gun that is both cocked (as in #2) and also loaded with ammunition. It’s unlikely that Grabpussy had this formula in mind in his tweet, but it is at least remotely possible.

— Though I don’t have citations for this usage, it’s entirely possible that cocked on its own has sometimes been metaphorically extended to ‘ready for action’, maybe even suggesting hair-trigger response. Certainly this sense is alive in uses of cocked in gay porn, where it combines with the usage of the PSP cocked as an adjective meaning ‘having a cock’.

— Back on the coordination lock and load.  Early citations mostly have the “more logical” order load and lock. (Some details in the Liberman piece.) However, there’s always some pressure to improve on the order load and lock phonologically, giving the vowel sequence / a … o / (preferred over / o … a /) and the consonant offset sequence / k … d / (preferred over / d … k /); compare the more satisfying rock and roll with the less satisfying roll and rock.

The Phrase Finder site’s 2/2/10 entry for lock and load goes so far as to attribute the shift to the current lock and load to a error on the part of John Wayne, which then provided a model for idiomatic usage:

The phrase “Lock and load” did not exist until 1949 [not entirely true], when Marion Morrison (better known as John Wayne) … immortalized it in the movie “Sands of Iwo Jima.” The “Duke” was supposed to say, “Load and lock” but erred and said, “Lock and load, boy, lock and load.”

(#3) A poster for the movie

To “Load and lock” refers to the operation of the M1 Garand Rifle, a standard WWII army rifle, where one would load a single round into the Garand, and then strike the bolt handle with the heel of the hand thereby forcing a round into the chamber and ensuring that it was fully closed and locked into place.

You can find use [of] the phrase “Load and lock”in Gene Gach’s 1942 movie, “In the army” where it’s said, “One round, ball ammunition, load and lock!”

It was also used during the Spanish-American War. The Annual Reports of the War Department shows a dispatch from the Philippines on June 15th 1899, which reads: “The line was under strong long-range fire and the order was given to load and lock the pieces; investigation proved that the white objects seen were the marines returning to their ship.”

The term “lock and load” is commonly used now as a reference to being prepared for an impending incident.

Cocked and (sexually) loaded. This last material is not suitable for kids or the sexually modest.

To Frank Abate I owe a pointer to this YouTube of Bill Maher’s Real Time monologue yesterday:

(#4) The Maher monologue on Grabpussy’s cocked and loaded

A monologue featuring Michael McKey’s gay porn video Cocked and Loaded, billed as “a gang bang daddy fuck” — what Maher suggests we’ve been getting from Grabpussy:

(#5) Front cover of the DVD; the back cover has the hard stuff

As it turns out, cocked and loaded has gotten lots of use in gay porn flicks. Among the titles:

a CockyBoys video Cocked and Loaded

a Butch Dixon video Cocked and Loaded (“Hairy, hungry and insatiably horny, these big dick, uncut studs just can’t get enough “pole and hole” – Sit back, unzip and watch them raw!”)

the RawEyes videos Cocked and Loaded Twinks / Twinx — a series of at least 3 “solo” (jack-off) videos

a Barrack X69 video Cocked and Loaded (“You’ll wish you could service these young hung servicemen as horned up GIs get hot wet and naked for your (and their own) steany pleasure – Stiff tools, fierce anal and oral action and cumshots by the quart!”)

a video Sexcyone Cocked & Loaded — black action

a Falcon video Gun Show: Cocked & Loaded

a RawJoxx video Mr. & Mr.: Cocked and Loaded

It’s not all gay porn. Sometimes it’s hard rock, with guns and naked women. From Wikipedia:

(#6) Their second album (1989)

L.A. Guns are an American hard rock band from Los Angeles, California, formed in 1983. The band currently consists of Tracii Guns (lead guitar), Phil Lewis (lead vocals), Ace Von Johnson on (rhythm guitar, backing vocals), Johnny Martin (bass guitar, backing vocals) and Scot Coogan (drums).

One Response to “Over the edge with formulaic language”

  1. nelsonminar Says:

    The Revolting Cocks also have an album titled “Cocked and Loaded”, with some lovely track titles like “Prune Tang” and “Pole Grinder”. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cocked_and_Loaded

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