What’s a ‘blunderbuss’?

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Increase your vocabulary and you’ll make your writing much more precise. That’s why I provide a word of the week. Today’s word: blunderbuss…

I’ve never been a huge fan of Stephen King’s writing. Well, apart from his wonderfully thoughtful and sensitive book called On Writing, that is. I’m not interested in the horror genre and the one King book I read — The Shining — left me scratching my head. How did he become so famous?

Still, a friend of mine recently read and recommended 11/22/63, King’s bestselling thriller about the JFK assassination. By way of explanation, he sent me a copy of a New York Times review by American film director Errol Morris.

I’m convinced. 11/22/63 has gone on my reading list. The review also gave me an unexpected gift, my word of the week: blunderbuss. Here is how Morris used it:

King is after something bigger. “11/22/63” is a meditation on memory, love, loss, free will and necessity. It’s a blunderbuss of a book, rife with answers to questions: Can one man make a difference? Can history be changed, or does it snap back on itself like a rubber band? 

I already knew that a blunderbuss was a way of doing something without subtlety and precision. But what were the origins of the term?

It turns out that a blunderbuss is also a gun. It’s a short-barreled large-bored gun with a flared muzzle, used at short range (see photo, above). The term was originally Dutch, donderbus from donder, which means “thunder.” The now-more-common definition comes from its resemblance to the word “blunder.”

An earlier version of this post first appeared on my blog on Feb. 21/18.

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