by Piet Coetzer

The lock, the stock and the barrel

Relocation calls for rotgut whiskey

final word lockstock.jpg

If you, like me, soon have to move house or relocate ‘lock, stock and barrel’, you are in a more hazardous situation than you may realise. But don’t think it could be a ‘sudden death’ affair, especially if you have reached that season of your life when everyone tells you it is perhaps time to ‘downsize’.

It was the prospect of not having to look after a big garden, cleaning a substantial dwelling and forever be replacing light bulbs and broken toilet seats that got me seriously considering the advice to downsize – although some of the advice might have been inspired by the worries of those who may, once I’m not there anymore, have to sort through the some-useful-but-mostly-useless stuff collected over a lifetime.

Moving to an easier-to-maintain residential environment meant taking a look at everything, ‘lock, stock and barrel’, in the house, the double garage and standing around on the stoep and in the garden.

My wife and I, with floor plan of the new dwelling in the one hand and a measuring tape in the other, went from room to room to see what could go along to our new abode and what should go to kids, friends or second-hand shops – from a library of books collected over more than 40 years to grandma’s piano that no one has played since the electronic keyboard hit the market.

It was soon clear that this was not going to be a ‘sudden death’ affair and probably appropriately so, considering the origins of the phrase ‘lock, stock and barrel’.

The expression comes from the days of the old muskets. On those guns, the ‘lock’ or ‘flintlock’ (so called probably because it resembled a door lock) was the firing mechanism and was first used in 1495 in association with Tudor guns. The ‘stock’ referred to the wooden butt-end of the gun. It is an old term for ‘wooden butt’ or ‘stump’ and is a generic term for a solid base. The ‘barrel’ part referrers to the cylindrical metal tube setting the round lead bullet off on a straight trajectory toward its target, and was probably adopted from cannons, which were more barrel-shaped.

In short, ‘lock, stock and barrel’ referred to the whole weapon.

The term, in its literal sense of referring to the weapon, has been around since the introduction of muskets during the Hundred Years War – a series of conflicts waged from 1337 to 1453 between the Kingdom of England and the Kingdom of France for control of the French throne.

By the way, muskets were used by what we today know as the ‘infantry’ and the soldiers using those early hand guns were called ‘musketeers’. They were the ‘sharpshooters’ of their time. During their early days, the musket guns were also known ashandgonnes or ‘hand cannons’.

The term ‘musket’ in turn derives from the French word mousquet, -ette, from the Italian moscetto, -etta, meaning the bolt of a crossbow. The Italian moscetto in turn is the diminutive of mosca, or ‘fly’.

In its more figurative sense, the expression ‘lock, stock and barrel’ was first recorded in the letters of the Scottish historical novelist, playwright and poet Sir Walter Scott in 1817, in a line that read: "Like the Highlandman's gun, she wants stock, lock and barrel, to put her into repair." I can think of quite a few friends who have gone through a divorce who could relate to that one.

As the taxing process of preparing for our move dragged on, and I developed the desire for a ‘sudden death’ solution, I had a look into the roots of this expression as well.

Widely used in the world of sports since 1927 to describe the process of settling a tie, I discovered that it comes from the world of gambling. Gamblers used the term even earlier to describe the final single throw of the dice or the flip of a coin.

But then I discovered another option to contemplate, for tiding me over the whole lock, stock and barrel move: Mark Twain reported ‘sudden death’ in 1865 as an American frontier expression for rotgut whiskey.

Something to soothe the nerves may be needed, considering the most used synonym for ‘lock, stock and barrel’ is ‘the whole bang shoot!’

Thank goodness I am moving to what is called a ‘security complex’, and it is within earshot of the soothing voice of the sea.

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Issue 410


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