Terminology is important!

by B.B.Pelletier

Yesterday’s blog really struck a sensitive spot with many readers. I was concerned that it would be too far off the topic of airguns, but it clearly wasn’t! So, today I’ll continue in the same vein with a discussion of proper airgun terminology. You might look at this post as Tom’s pet peeves.

Let’s begin with the term “bullet.” Many people, including writers and shooters, refer to firearm ammunition as bullets. The proper term is “cartridge.” If you’ve seen the movie National Treasure 2, you’ll see an FBI agent, presumably a forensics person, pick up a bunch of spent firearm cases and tell another FBI agent that they have the bullets of the shooter.

If the entire cartridge is a bullet, then you have to come up with a name for the thing at the end of the cartridge that gets shot out of the gun. I’ve heard these referred to as bullet heads, bullet tips and bullet noses. None of these are precise or proper. It doesn’t necessarily promote confusion unless you’re trying to do something like order things for reloading. Then, you have to ask for a box of bullet tips. And that gets confusing when the supplier knows them only as bullets.

Another pet peeve is referring to airsoft ammunition as BBs. I’ve said this before, but it bears repeating. When an unknowing person tries to purchase an airsoft gun as a gift, they know that it requires ammunition; but if they ask a clerk who also doesn’t understand the difference between airsoft and true BB guns that shoot steel BBs, they could easily sell them a box of Daisy steel BBs. That would ruin the gift, plus it might damage the airsoft gun if the recipient tried to use them.

An apparently confusing term is single-shot versus repeater. I’ve seen young sales people call a repeater a single-shot because it fired only one time when you pulled the trigger. They thought that if it wasn’t full-auto, it was a single-shot. Others understood that it fired only once per trigger-pull; but if it wasn’t loading the next round automatically, they thought it was a single-shot. To them, any work the shooter might have to do such as cocking the hammer or working a loading bolt made the gun a single-shot.

Calling a breakbarrel spring-piston gun a one-pump gun. That’s confusing because there’s no pumping of a spring-piston airgun. A one-pump gun is properly called a single-stroke pneumatic. The act of compressing a mainspring and holding it in a compressed state is properly referred to as “cocking.”

Many shooters refer to the tank that stores compressed air as a reserve or a reserver. That just slows down everyone else as they try to decode what the person intended to say.

Airsoft vs. soft air is a big pet peeve of mine. Soft air is a trademarked term used by the Daisy company for the 6mm guns they began importing in the early 1980s. Airsoft is a generic term that refers to that class of guns made by all makers. If you doubt what I’m saying, do a Google search on airsoft and “soft air” (use the quotes) and see how many hits you get on each term. We got 16 million hits for airsoft and only 837,000 for “soft air.” Your Google results may vary as Google has more than one search engine and not all agree. But the results should be approximately the same proportionally.

How about a cocking knob? That’s what some people call a the bolt on a bolt-action gun. I guess the round knob on the end of the bolt handle might be the reason that term came into use. Nevertheless, it’s incorrect.

Single-action/double-action. These two terms confuse a lot of people, including gun writers. If we say that a single-action is a gun that requires its hammer to be cocked before it can be fired, and a double-action is a gun that can be fired with each pull of the trigger, then what does that make a Colt M1911A1, where you have to cock the hammer for the first shot but after that you can fire with each pull of the trigger? It makes it both single- and double-action. The first shot is always single-action, and each succeeding shot is double-action. But what about the gun whose slide was in the rear position before the shooter loaded the next magazine? Is that a single-action shot or a double-action shot? It’s a single-action shot because the hammer was cocked (by the slide) before the first shot, just not by the shooter. As you can see, I was confused when I wrote the forgoing that has now been crossed out. The 1911 is a single-action pistol that remains single-action regardless of what cocks the hammer.

What’s a dovetail? Besides its use in furniture making, it’s a mounting platform for optics. But what size is it? It can be a Weaver, 3/8″, 11mm or any other size you like. But they’re all dovetails. I recall a blog comment made several years ago by a reader who asked about the right height rings for his dovetail. He assumed that all dovetails were the same size. They’re not. Airgun dovetails that are not Weaver vary from just under 9.5mm to over 13.5mm. The variation in size means that there are specific mounts for some guns and not a lot of options are available for them.

So, here’s a scenario. A new shooter walks into a large outdoor sporting goods store and asks to buy a one-pump BB gun. He doesn’t want a single-shot, so he rejects a number of bolt-actions out of hand. Can you see the confusion with the improper use of terminology?

Airgunning is a relatively small sport when compared to golf, football and softball. We need less confusion, not more.