Weapon metaphors are common throughout our language. Whether they are based on guns, knives or bow and arrows, these metaphors are so commonplace you might not even notice that you’re using them.
Here are a few great gun metaphors and idioms:
- Bite the bullet.
- Ride shotgun.
- You shot me down.
And here are some knife metaphors and idioms:
- Take a stab at it.
- Stabbed in the back.
- Bring a knife to a gunfight.
Below I’ll outline and explain a list of all the metaphors, idioms and similes for weapons I could come up with today!
A List of Gun Metaphors
1. Stare Down the Barrell of a Gun
This means to do something dangerous or be in a dangerous situation. If you were to literally stare down the barrell of a gun, it means it’s being pointed right at you and you could die at any moment. In everyday life, you might say this if someone is taking extreme risks.
2. Sweating Bullets
This means that you’re sweating profusely. It’s not clear where this saying comes from. One speculation is that it’s simply got to do with the idea that comically large sweat droplets would look like bullets. Another idea is that it relates to the process of sweating metal, which involves heating it to unbind it. If you were to apply the sweating process to bullets, you’d be very nervous that they would blow up in your face.
3. Set your Sights On
To set your sights on something means to decide to achieve something. It has its origins in the idea of pointing a gun scope at a target to set your sights on what you will shoot at. But as an idiom, we will say it whenever we have set a goal. For example, you could say that you have set your sights on a promotion at work.
4. Shot Down
This usually means to be rejected by someone or something. It comes from the literal concept of an airplane getting shot down from the sky. But in everyday language, you might say you were shot down if you asked someone out on a date and they said no.
5. Locked and Loaded
If you’re locked and loaded, it means you’re ready to get going! It refers to the idea that your ammunition has been locked and loaded into a gun, ready to fire. You’ll often hear this term when people are in the car and ensuring everyone has put their seatbelts on. The driver might say to the passengers: “Are we all locked and loaded?” to check with everyone before driving.
6. Bite the Bullet
Supposedly, soldiers inured in battle used to be given a bullet to bite while medics were working on their wounds. The bullet, like a leather strap, was used as something to clench to help endure pain. Today, we use the saying when we want to refer to doing something painful in order to get it over and done with.
7. Ride Shotgun
To ride shotgun is to sit in the front passenger seat of a car. In war, you could imagine the person sitting in the passenger seat to be the person holding the shotgun and shooting out the window at enemies. Today, someone will yell “shotgun” to claim the front seat as theirs.
8. Shoot First, Aim Later
People who shoot first and aim later might end up killing someone who they didn’t mean to. It’s of course better to aim before you shoot! Today, we use this phrase when talking about someone who says and does things before thinking. For example, if a police officer arrested someone and then realized they had gotten the wrong person, you could accuse them of shooting first and aiming later – leading to bad consequences!
9. Shoot from the Hip
To shoot from the hip means to make decisions rashly or impulsively. It refers to the idea of someone from old Westerns who pulls their gun from the holster and shoots at their enemy without even taking a pause to aim. These old western cowboys were making some bad decisions! Today you might warn someone not to shoot from the hip if you see them getting mad or making assumptions without thinking things through.
10. Smoking Gun
This means that you’ve found some evidence of something that is undeniable. It comes from the idea that a detective who finds a gun that’s still got smoking coming out of it has found the murder weapon. Today, we will often use this phrase in political contexts when evidence of a bribe or misbehavior is found. The newspaper might read: “We’ve found the smoking gun.”
A List of Bow and Arrow Metaphors
11. Got an Arrow in the Quiver
An arrow in the quiver is a resource that can be relied upon to achieve a goal. If someone in battles in the middle ages had an arrow in the quiver, it meant they were still dangerous. Today, you could say a football team “still has an arrow in their quiver” if they are losing the game but have their star player sitting on the bench ready to come onto the field.
12. More than one String in your Bow
To have more than one string in your bow means to have multiple talents, skills or options. It refers back to when battles were fought with bows and arrows. If you have multiple different strings, you can swap them out for different purposes. Today, we might say we have more than one string in our bow to refer to your multiple options: “I hope this works out, but if it doesn’t, I have more than one string in my bow so I’ll just try something else.”
A List of Knife and Sword Metaphors
13. Bring a Knife to a Gunfight
A person who brings a knife to a gunfight is inevitably going to lose. So, this saying is used whenever someone is clearly underprepared for a situation. For example, in car racing, it may be used when one person is driving a low-powered car while the other is driving a professional race car.
14. Double-Edged Sword
Back when people used to fight wars with swords, a double-edged sword was just that. It was a sword that was sharp on both sides. With a double-edge sword, you could stab the person in front of you and also, if you’re not careful, cut yourself with the back end of the sword! So today, we use this idiom to refer to something that could be both good and bad.
15. Knives Out
To have knives out means to be in a face-off with opponents. You’re both looking for ways to harm one another. You could imagine in your mind two people walking around one another, both holding knives, looking for an opportunity to stab one another. But figuratively, we use this phrase whenever two people don’t like each other and want to do harm to them, such as by saying bad things about them behind their backs.
16. Stabbed in the Back
This means that you have been betrayed. If you get literally stabbed in the back, you probably didn’t see it coming. The assassin snuck up behind you and got you when you weren’t watching. But when we say that someone was stabbed in the back we usually mean that you were betrayed by someone who you didn’t expect to betray you.
17. Take a Stab At
If you take a stab at something, it means to give it a try. If you were to literally take a stab at something, you would have a weapon of course – a knife or sword. But today, we mostly simply use this phrase whenever we try something out. For example, if you wanted to try out dancing, you could “take a stab” at the tango.
Weapons have made their way into our language over time. They’re powerful tools that can lead to strong figurative language. So, there’s no wonder we’ve come up across a range of different arrow, knife and gun idioms and metaphors through time.
The great thing about creative language is that it you can make it up yourself! So if you haven’t found the perfect saying in this list, why not have a go at creating your own weapon metaphor. All you need to do is think up something that a weapon does and link it to the situation you’re in.
I’m a Scorpio, I love the outdoors, and I’ve written articles in some major online publications like Medium and The Weekly. My favorite metaphor? Anything that’s got to do with baseball. I’m fascinated by the fact our language has baseball weaved all through it. Read more about me here.