Watch out! A person armed with a blunderbuss is a blunderbussier! A blunderbuss is also someone who blunders a lot, a group of people who blunder around are called blunderbusses and blunderbussing means to “shoot hit-and-miss” at a wide target.

The definition of blunderbuss probably evolved because of its similarity to the word blunder meaning to “To make a usually serious mistake” and to “To move clumsily or blindly.” A blunderbuss can also describe any difficult commotion without focus, moving in haphazard directions or call attention to unpredictability or a lack of focus.

    This was a humid hot day, this last sigh of summer monsoons, and perhaps that had kept them in place, settled and raising families. I cornered one against the doorjamb. Another I stalked across the kitchen and held against the dishwasher. A third wavered by the stove. When I swatted, a wild ferocious swing, a whole tumbling crowd shot from under the fridge like clouds from a blunderbuss, then settled back.
    (Contemplations from Dusty Solitude)
Deriving its meaning from the Dutch word donderbus meaning ‘thunder gun’ the word originated sometime around 1654. relates the following about the word’s origin:
    Folk etymology of Dutch "donderbus" based on donder "thunder" + bus "box, gun" from Middle Dutch busse "tube" related to Latin buxis "box" as well as English "box" and German "Büchse." Dutch "donder," German "Donner," and English "thunder" go back to another PIE stem with a wandering initial s, *(s)ten-. We find the s in the name Stentor, the Greek at Troy, famous for his loud voice, the eponym of stentorian "loud." Latin tonare "to thunder," which underlies "tornado," "astonish," and "detonate," also lacks the s.
Yo ho! Yo ho! It's a pirate's life for me! Swashbuckling buccaneers used them to clear the decks and London coachmen employed them to defend unarmed passengers at the mercy of the highwayman and their dreaded words "Stand and deliver, your money or your life!" Its caliber was large so it could be loaded with a great deal of shot which was intended to be fired at short range. Some of these firearms have been dated as early as 1530 and they were manufactured primarily in Southern and Western Europe, especially Holland, England and Ireland. They were very popular about the same time as flintlock s were, relatively plain in craftsmanship, construction and finish, made to withstand heavy use they made for very robust armaments. J.R.R. Tolkien’s Farmer Giles of Ham is lighthearted parody on knightly romances which was published in 1949. In the Thames Valley, a township called Ham resides a farmer called Giles. One day he and his talking dog Garm managed to scare off a nearsighted giant, at whom Giles fired his old blunderbuss. I have to wonder knowing a little bit about Tolkien and his scheme of innovative writing, could the author possibly be cleverly citing his source, the Oxford English Dictionary when he references the “Four Wise Clerks of Oxenford” in the following excerpt? :
    Farmer Giles had a short way with 'trespassers that few could outface. So he pulled on his breeches, and went down into the kitchen and took his blunderbuss from the wall. Some may well ask what a blunderbuss was. Indeed, this very question, it is said, was put to the Four Wise Clerks of Oxenford, and after thought they replied: `A blunderbuss is a short gun with a large bore firing many balls or slugs, and capable of doing execution within a limited range without exact aim. (Now superseded in civilised countries by other firearms.)'

    However, Farmer Giles's blunderbuss had a wide mouth that opened like a horn, and it did not fire balls or slugs, but anything that he could spare to stuff in. And it did not do execution, because he seldom loaded it, and never let it off. The sight of it was usually enough for his purpose. And this country was not yet civilised, for the blunderbuss was not superseded: it was indeed the only kind of gun that there was, and rare at that. People preferred bows and arrows and used gunpowder mostly for fireworks.

    Well then, Farmer Giles took down the blunderbuss, and he put in a good charge of powder, just in case extreme measures should be required; and into the wide mouth he stuffed old nails and bits of wire, pieces of broken pot, bones and stones and other rubbish. The he drew on his top-boots and his overcoat, and he went out through the kitchen garden.

    The moon was low behind him, and he could see nothing worse than the long black shadows of bushes and true; but he could hear a dreadful stamping-stumping coming up the side of the hill. He did not feel either bold or quick, whatever Agatha might say; but he was more anxious about his property than his skid. So, , feeling a bit loose about the belt, he walked towards the brow of the hill.

    Suddenly up over the edge of it the giant's face appeared, pale in the moonlight, which glittered in his large round eyes. His feet were still far below, making holes in the fields. The moon dazzled the giant and he did not see the farmer; but Farmer Giles saw him and was scared out of his wits: He pulled the trigger without thinking, and the blunderbuss went off with a staggering bang. By luck it was pointed more or less at the giant's large ugly face. Out flew the rubbish, and the stones and the bones, and the bits of crock and wire, and-half a dozes nails. And since the range was indeed limited, by chance and no choice of the farmer's. Many of these things struck the giant: a piece of pot went in his eye, and a large nail stuck in his nose.

    `Blast!' said the giant in his vulgar fashion. `I'm stung!' The noise had made no impression on him (he was rather deaf), but he did not like the nail. It was a long time since he had met any insect fierce enough to pierce his thick skin; but he had heard tell that away East, in the Fens, there were dragonflies that could bite like hot pincers. He thought that he must have run into something of the kind.

The giant believed he had been stung by some colossal insect went home, Farmer Giles attained a reputation as a hero and the king, who thought a reward was in order, gave him an old sword, which the monarch thought was too old fashioned to have hanging around his castle.

Farmer Giles’s blunderbuss may have been a pistol or shoulder gun since both styles were manufactured then. It was a short muzzle loader musket known for its broad but imprecise scattering of shot because of its flared muzzle. This uniquely designed weapon was developed during the 17th century and used up until the 19th century. With its horn shaped barrel the gun fired projectiles across a remarkably broad range it was possible to hit a target like marauding moonstruck giants within a 160' range of where it was aimed, and then again, it might not hit anything at all.

For hunting it was very useful for fowling. It didn’t require any kind of skill to hit a bird; hunters merely aimed in a general direction and fired. In military applications, the scatter shot feature of the blunderbuss was unpredictable. Enemy forces could be heading in a soldier’s direction and be entirely missed by the explosion from a blunderbuss, but on the other hand, the wide range of projectiles meant that the soldier could also hit a dozen men at once.

Usually 25-34 inches in length, it had a range of less than one hundred feet and would spread shot over four feet wide at a range of sixty feet. Blunderbusses were outfitted with flintlocks, wheel locks, or percussion locks and could readily fire almost any solid object like nails, rocks, pebbles, bird seed or grape shot. This was an added bonus as a weapon. It meant that on the battlefield any kind of hard object would make do when musket balls were in short supplies.

To load the scattergun soldiers used gunpowder and wadding, but many liked to add extra gunpowder to the firearm knowing how the wide opening in the barrel dissipated the force of the gun blast. As a result of the extra powder the weapon had a nasty kickback, which made the use of a tripod, or a prop of some sort, mandatory to absorb the shock when it was fired. To purchase an original flintlock blunderbuss made around the 1600's today a collector would have to pay anywhere from $2,500.00 up to $25,000.00. The habits of overloading the weapons destroyed many of them and a blunderbuss in good condition is about as rare as finding Ent’s along the Brandywine River today.


American Heritage Dictionary:

The story of the blunderbuss: gunsblunderbuss_skj_gn.htm


Blunderbuss, a short gun, unrifled and of large bore, widening toward the muzzle. It is by no means to be ranked with arms of precision, but is loaded with many balls or slugs, which scatter when fired, so that there is a certainty of some one of them hitting the mark.

Entry from Everybody's Cyclopedia, 1912.

Blun"der*buss (?), n. [Either fr. blunder + D. bus tube, box, akin to G. buchse box, gun, E. box; or corrupted fr. D. donderbus (literally) thunder box, gun, musket.]


A short gun or firearm, with a large bore, capable of holding a number of balls, and intended to do execution without exact aim.


A stupid, blundering fellow.


© Webster 1913.

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