Son of a Gun (Origin)

by Craig Shrives

What Is the Origin of the Saying "Son of a Gun"?

The term "son of a gun" means a scamp.
Son of a Gun (Origin)
In the phrase "son of a gun," the word "gun" is a metonym for a soldier. The term originates from the British Navy in the early 19th century. At that time, the Navy allowed women to live on ships. Inevitably, this led to the births of children with uncertain paternity. These births were recorded in the ship's log as "son of a gun." (Detractors of this theory note that "daughter of a gun" was not used, but this could be attributed to the prevailing sexism of the time.)

Alternative Theory

The term "son of a gun" is a rhyming alternative to "son of a bitch" or "son of a whore." It has come into common use simply because it is easier to say and more rhythmic than the alternatives, meaning it works better as an interjection (a word that expresses an emotion such as anger or surprise).

Previous and Next Sayings

Test Your Knowledge of English Proverbs and Idioms

Ready for the Test?

More Proverbs, Sayings, and Idioms

Help Us To Improve Grammar Monster

  • Do you disagree with something on this page?
  • Did you spot a typo?
Next lesson >

See Also

What are idioms? What is figurative language? A list of common grammar errors A list of easily confused words A list of sayings and proverbs

Page URL