Society for the Promotion of Traditional Archery

Occasional articles No. 1

Dictionary definition: FIRE: chemical action accompanied by light, heat and flame: discharge of firearms: shoot, discharge (of guns).

It seems such a shame that the word 'firing' is now becoming commonplace when describing the act of discharging an arrow from a bow. 'Fire' has nothing to do with it, unless you are setting your archery kit alight to keep warm when lost in the backwoods, or cooking the dinner you have just hunted and despatched, or in setting a match to your archery kit after an awful field round, having decided to take up indoor bowls or tiddlywinks instead. At a push you could, I suppose "fire' and incendiary arrow (a long established battle tactic).

When I started out with my trusty longbow, I used to think it was a pedantic pain in the backside to be corrected with the words "It's SHOOT, not FIRE!" but having spent so many years steeped in the history and technology of the sport I love, it has become a matter of respect to the history of the bow, to use the correct terminology: it has a subtlety and accuracy in a time when jargon can make language shallow and occasionally meaningless. You SHOOT a bow (more literally, shoot in a bow, particularly the longbow, but I try not to be too precious!) Historically, the english word 'fire' was applied to the act of setting light to the powder of cannon, or the handgun which began to take over from the bow in the late middle ages in Europe. In contract, the word 'shoot' was applied equally to the gun and the bow. Yes, people don't like to be corrected, and some may think that this whole subject is pointless in the face of 'common usage'. In my view they are missing something. A real traditional archer shoots his bow!

'SHOOT' Provenance/derivation
Quite a lot of the research proved much use of the word 'shoot' to be scatalogical, the cleaner connections are below! "Sceotan": an Anglo Saxon word to projecting/move quickly, becoming skytta (also other variations) leading to a host of english words SHOOT, SHOUT (projecting words) SKEET & SCOOT (projecting water, in particular), SCOUT (throwing contemptiously away), SHUT (initially meaning to shoot the bolt on a door)
SKIT/SKITTLE (to dart about) The bowman's main shooting finger was the skite finger, a shooting hole in a castle wall, a skitebrook. Sample Sayings (the clean ones): To shoot the breeze. Shoot one's mouth off. Shoot the line. Shoot the works. Shoot the whole. Shoot the moon. (I'm sure there's more...)

(Sources: 'Wordly Wise' by James McDonald.
History of Historical Slang
Guinness book of curious phrases)