Sunday, November 9, 2014

Shots rang out...

…but the cliché survived.

Why is it that shots always “ring out” in TV news accounts of shootings? Why aren’t they just “fired”?

It was probably considered a colorful expression when some observer coined it back at the time firearms were invented, but it’s still in use today, and it’s the cliché of clichés. 

In my limited experience with shooting, at a distance small arms fire makes a kind of popping noise, and close up, shots are an insult to your eardrums. You’ll notice that when you see policemen or survivalists’ children practicing at firing ranges they’re always wearing those big ear protectors. Is that so they won’t mistake the “ringing” for their cell phones and become distracted from their targets? I don’t think so.

But there is a ringing sound associated with one particular type of shooting. Anyone who has fired an M-1 rifle will remember the sound of the empty clip leaving the rifle. However -- War Story Ahead -- I may be the only person who can honestly associate “ringing” with the firing of an artillery round.

Actually it had less to do with the sound itself than with my position relative to it. 

I was engaged in “O and S”-ing an artillery piece. The purpose of orientation and synchronization is to arrange for the gun to fire in the direction the radar is pointing when it’s indicating a target. They probably do it digitally today, but when I was involved with it it required sticking your head into the breech and boresighting on some feature of the landscape. That’s what I was doing when a very large gun 20 yards away fired. The sound reverberated in the confined space in which my head was enclosed, and my ears were ringing the rest of the day.  

But I don’t cite that as justification for furthering the use of the cliché; in fact, I think the expression ought to be banned in polite journalism. Certainly you don’t hear it in ordinary verbal (non-TV-anchor) descriptions of gunfights. More likely it will be,       “I heard these three shots, bam, bam, bam…”  The police would record,  in their famously stilted language, that "the perpetrator fired three rounds from a .38 caliber pistol at the responding officer, who returned fire, striking the deceased in the upper torso…” (but you hardly ever see anything there about anything “ringing”). 

I make fun of how the police talk, but their descriptions aren't any duller than what you get from TV, where shots always ring out, bullets start flying and, inevitably, it turns into a war zone. Gotta be something between cop jargon and TV cliché. I'll have to work on it.