lock, stock, and barrel

The phrase “lock, stock, and barrel” means “the whole thing, entire and complete.”

It’s been suggested that the phrase refers to a shopkeeper’s possessions and, while that may appear reasonable, it actually refers to a musket. Surprisingly, muskets were in use for several centuries before the phrase first appeared in print. Guns have been in use since at least the Hundred Years’ War in 1450.

The earliest use of the phrase seems to be from James Ray’s A Compleat History of the [Jacobite] Rebellion, 1752: “…she found my Highland Pistols, which were a Piece of curious Workmanship, the Stock, Lock and Barrel being of polish’d Steel.”

In July 1803, The Connecticut Sentinel included a letter that reported on a celebration of the 4th of July, in the town of Stratford.One of the toasts was to “Patriotism – Self interest, the cock, lock, stock and barrel.”

The lock, or flintlock, is the firing mechanism. The term “lock” may have been adopted because the mechanism resembles a door lock. The stock is the wooden butt of the gun. “Stock” is an old term for wooden butt or stump and was used as early as 1495 in association with Tudor guns. “Barrel” is an even older word and was well-established by the 15th century. 

It seems odd that this part of a musket was called a “barrel” when people in the 1400s would have used that word to mean the squat coopered tubs used for storage. But perhaps the term was adopted from cannons which were more barrel-shaped.

In the early days of firearms manufacturing, individual craftsmen made individual components one at a time. One craftsman made the “lock” which would have been a match lock, wheel lock, flint lock, etc. The next craftsman made the barrel, and the last craftsman, a woodworker, made the stock. At some point, a craftsman or a merchant started advertising “Lock Stock and Barrel” meaning that you could get your entire gun at one location and did not have to go from craftsman to craftsman to get it finished.

“Lock, stock, and barrel” has been a popular title for movies, gun shops, restaurants, books, and even whiskey.

I wonder if I could buy a barrel of whiskey and keep it as my personal stock of joy juice, under lock and key, of course. 

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