Half Cocked

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Half Cocked : Phrases


To be less than fully prepared.


Before you go in half cocked demanding a raise, you better think through what you are going to say.


Cocked refers to the action of cocking a gun. Interestingly the term cocking a gun comes from flintlock muskets of 17th century, the hammer was very ornate and resembled a rooster (a cock).

The phrase was originally going off half cocked.

The half cock position of the cock on a flint or cap lock weapon was a safe position to which the cock was drawn to permit access to the priming pan (flint lock) or to permit capping (cap lock). The cock could be placed in the half cock position while, hopefully, not risking having the weapon go off accidentally.

Pulling the trigger of a flintlock at half cock will not fire the weapon. The hammer, which contains the flint, will not strike the frizzen with sufficient force to produce a spark and the primer charge in the pan will not be ignited.

The loading process of a flintlock is quite involved.

1. Draw the hammer to the half cock position
2. Prime the pan
3. Close the pan
4. Charge the weapon (i.e. pour the powder into the barrel)
5. Load the ball/bullet
6. Drive the ball home
7. Draw the hammer to full cock position

Particularly in the heat of battle, it was easy to forget the last step and continue with the platoon, change position (with the loaded gun in safe mode), shoulder the weapon to be fired, and pull the trigger with the result being that nothing happens. Embarrassing and potentially dangerous.

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