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Anyone who has seen the pate of my head lately will know that I suffer from chronic frustrations that cause me to pull the hair from my head.  Take, for instance, the road near my sons’ high school, Hemmingway Ln. The street is in a subdivision known as Chaucer Estates. It intersects Longfellow Ln, Stevenson Ln., and Tennyson Dr, and it runs parallel to Frost Ln, and Twain Dr. These, of course, are all well known authors. Except Hemmingway. Ernest Hemingway I know and love, but I have no idea who this fellow with two ‘m’s in the middle of his name is. Papa must be rolling over in his grave. So it is that I fastidiously tie the remains of my once lustrous locks into a tight bun and tackle firearms pet peeves.

Clips and Magazines

Perhaps the most egregious firearm misnomer is the widespread use of the term “clip” when referring to a magazine. I know of precious few firearms that are loaded via clip. Yet if you watch guns portrayals in popular media and you would think that every pistol and assault rifle is clip fed. A clip is not a magazine nor is a magazine a clip.

A clip is a device that binds multiple cartridges together so that they can be loaded quickly into the magazine of a gun. The most popular example of a clip-loaded gun (and probably the root of the misuse of the term) is the M1 Garand. The venerable M1 uses an en-bloc clip that is, as its name implies, blocky. Other clip fed guns use stripper clips, which are thin metal bindings that attached the bullets by the base of the casing, or moon and half-moon clips for speedloading revolvers.

A roach clip has nothing to do with guns and one should never handle a firearm after using one.

Magazines are built-in or detachable ammunition storage device that feed cartridges into the chamber by the action of a repeating firearm. The feed mechanisms of most magazines are springs but some older magazines rely on gravity.

Magazines come in many different flavors. Popular built-in magazines include internal box (common with bolt-action guns), and tubular (lever-action guns and shotguns). Detachable magazines include box (automatic handguns, assault rifles, etc.), drum (think Prohibition-era Tommy guns), rotary (Ruger 10/22), pan (Lewis gun, Degtyarev light machinegun), and helical (Calico M960).

Detachable box magazines, such as those that fit into the butt of an automatic handgun, are not clips because in addition to loading the gun, they feed the rounds into the action during operation.

Bullets vs. Cartridges

Call me crotchety, but I can’t stand it when the great unwashed, as well as far too many of those with Ivory Soap hands, call cartridges bullets.  Bullets are loaded into cartridges. Cartridges are loaded into guns.

A typical cartridge is the assembled unit of ammunition comprised of projectile (bullet or shot), propellant (usually gunpowder), case (with the rare exception of caseless cartridges), and primer (which is integrated into the case of rimfire ammunition).

Bullets are usually lead slugs, often wrapped partially or fully by a brass, copper, or steel jackets. They are sometimes tipped by harder metals or have hollow tips and sometimes they are made of rubber or plastic for less lethal purposes. By itself a bullet is quite inert, about as lethal as a marble. But package it in a cartridge and it has the ready potential to do some damage.


While convalescing from wounds suffered during World War II, Soviet tank mechanic Mikhail Kalashnikov was inspired to create a new machinegun for his country. He began tinkering with parts and eventually won an assault rifle design competition with a prototype that evolved into the Avtomat Kalashnikova model 1947, or AK-47. Kalashnikov borrowed widely from existing successful weapons of the day including the gas system of a German StG44, safety from a Remington Model 8, and trigger and feed components from an M1 Garand.

His gun was a hit but on its fourth redesign in 1959 it ceased to be designated the AK-47. The new gun, called the AKM, featured a raft of improvements including a stamped receiver that cut total gun weight to half that of its milled predecessor. The AKM and its many variants are, in fact, the guns that most westerners recognize and incorrectly call AK-47. Soviet bloc countries simply referred to the AKM as the Kalashnikov or Kalash for short.

Finally, in the 1970s, the Red Army replaced the AKM with AK-74. The AK-74 also has the familiar Kalashnikov silhouette with its dorsal-fin like piston above the barrel and curling magazine box. However, it is chambered for the smaller 5.45x39mm round that, taking a page from the American M-16 playbook, is designed to inflict wounds rather than knock down and kill.

Look, in school I was a poor student so I sympathize with people mistakenly misusing incorrect firearms terminology. But the fact of the matter is that I am the offspring of a pair of professional educators and this stuff is in my blood.  So please, please, PLEASE get things right when talking about clips, magazines, bullets, and cartridges. And for the love of the fish, would you stop calling every Russian assault rifle an AK-47. While you’re at it, apologize to Hem for misspelling his name.

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  1. Good article. I have rid myself of the first habit, I am not a good on the second and I am fairly mindful of the third when I am seriously discussing Kalashnikovs. From the title, I thought that this post was going to be about the media's use of gun terms, i.e. "automatic pistol" (they are refering to the loading mechanism and it brings fully automatic pistols such as the Glock 18).

  2. Thank you for your well written article. I have posted the link to it on a comments forums of the Boulder Daily Camera (Boulder, Colorado), because so many folks, including reporters and editors of that paper, refuse to acknowledge that they are using incorrect terms. Usually there’s a snotty sophomoric reply akin to: “You know what we/they are/were talking about!” – almost celebrating improper usage. You can lead a horse to water………

  3. Great article. That kind of gets my goat too. They are cartridges. And they arent guns, but rifles, they are.
    Carbines if you care.

  4. I’ve searched, and searched, but still can not find. WHAT does WASR, mean??? Help.
    Thanks, new to the site.

    • Hmm. I’ve seen “Wicked A$$ Sniper Rifle” down to “What A Sh1tty Rifle.”
      However, the actual Honest To God answer seems to be :
      “Wassenaaar Araangement- 10 round rifle…” referencing some dam UN agreement.

      Anyway, stopped to say I found it amusing and ironic that our gracious host, who is so peeved about the mispelling of Ernest’s last name, and miscalling magazines “clips,” or cartridges as “bullets,” seems to be slightly careless himself in using “automatic” to describe certain handguns, where I believe it is only”semi-automatic” he means (as Lance obliquely notes above.)

  5. people mistakenly misusing incorrect firearms terminology? Do you prefer people intentionally misusing correct firearms terminology? How about misusing the English language?

  6. I too am peeved at sloppy, inaccurate terminology when it comes to firearms (or anything else, really). The “bullet” and the “AK-47” ignorance really goads me too. We are kindred spirits in this regard, and I suspect you, like I, take every opportunity to correct those who don’t use correct terminology. So I’ll point out a few here:

    I too hate when people say “bullets” when they mean “cartridges”, like you do when ironically mentioning “…stripper clips, which are thin metal bindings that attached the bullets by the base of the casing…”.
    Stripper clips are mechanisms which attach CARTRIDGES (not bullets) by their bases or by the base of their cases. Casings are animal intestines. Cartridges are composed of CASES, primers, propellant and projectiles (with maybe a little wadding). Even those rankled by the “bullet” misuse are not immune to the error. 🙂

    Oh, and speaking of composing, the term is “composed of”, not “comprised of”. Although very similar sounding, and with somewhat related meanings, they are not the same word and are not interchangeable. The term “comprised of” is never correct, although you often see it in printed material, the editors of which should know better.

  7. Well it wasn’t changed from 7.62x39mm to a 5.45x39mm round during the 70’s. stop flaming posts about what you don’t know.

  8. Please stop playing into the enemy’s hands by calling ANY weapon (except an STG-44 since it is the ONLY assault rifle ever made).

    Other than that and the 1970s adoption of the 5.45×39 round!? It was a good article.

    BTW How many people know it’s stocks you put on your pistol (or revolver) an pistol grips you put on a shotgun with no buttstock, or certain long guns and carbines? 😀

  9. Automatic and self loading may be misleading and imprecise, but they are not necessarily incorrect. Manufacturers have named many products and that has influenced the way we refer to firearms: .45 ACP, pocket automatic, self loading rifle, etc.

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