Loose Cannon (Origin)

by Craig Shrives

What Is the Origin of the Saying "Loose Cannon"?

The term "loose cannon" means someone who is unpredictable and could cause damage if not kept in check.

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Loose Cannon (Origin)

Examples of Use:

  • Their eldest was a bit of a loose cannon. You couldn't be sure he would blurt something offensive.
  • She's bit of a loose cannon. She acts before she thinks.
  • He was dubbed a loose cannon by the press after a series of outlandish decisions against the advice of his team.
This term originates from the canons on board wooden warships, which were lashed down with ropes to avoid damage and injury from their recoil when fired. A loose canon was one with ineffective restraints (e.g., broken ropes). Without these restraints, a "loose canon" would roll dangerously around the ship's deck. Nowadays, "loose canon" is used figuratively to describe a person with a maverick nature. Even though it derives from the warships from before the 19th century, "loose canon" only became popular in the 1960s (evidence). Its popularity was likely boosted by the following quotation accredited to President Roosevelt after his death: "I don't want to be the old cannon loose on the deck in the storm."

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