Loose Cannons

Here is your vocab lesson for the day, or actually the explanation of a a saying that you have probably heard over the years and you might be wondering where it came from.

Loose Cannons

You have probably heard someone called a Loose Cannon.  Normally it is applied to people that seem to dance to their own tune – play by their own rules – move to the beat of a different drummer. In other words they are Riggs from Lethal Weapon.  They are uncontrollable forces of nature, just like a loose cannon.

Check out the picture to the right.  Do you notice the number of ropes used to anchor the cannon into place.  This was the normal way that cannon were rigged below decks.  The cannons were on wheels.  They had to be moved forward and backward.  In the process of loading the cannons, they were rolled away from the gunwales.  The inside of the cannon was swabbed out and cleaned, the cannon was reloaded and then the rolled back into place with the winches that were connected to the ropes.  The ropes were then secured and the cannon was tightened into place. The cannon was fired and then the process was repeated.

What happened though when the cannon was ‘loose?’  Let’s look at a scenario.

The firing crew is below decks on an English man-o-war and they are getting ready for their first volley at a pirate ship in the distance.  The have loaded, they have aimed and they have pushed the cannon back into place in the gunwale to fire the broadside.  They wait for the order to fire the cannon.  The order is given and they pull the firing chain.  As the powder ignites they realize that they didn’t tighten their cannon before firing it.  Their cannon is loose.  The explosion of the powder drives the cannon back into the firing crew of that cannon.  The cannon proceeds over them into the cannon on the other side of the decking.  The powder monkey runs away from the cannon, dropping his bag of powder.  The loose cannon ignites the powder and the ensuing explosion takes out most of the crew below deck and creates a big enough hole that the ship begins to take on water.  The pirates, seeing the explosion, bring their guns to bear and in short time sink the man-o-war and pillage the merchant ship that was being protected.

Loose cannon, like loose lips, sink ships!