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Technical Glossaries




Guns and Ammo

Microbiology Glossary

Optical Microscopy



Guns and Ammunition Terminology
Some special terms easily confused:

Assault rifle (Sturmgewehr):

Here, 'assault' is the military term: the final advance over the last 50-100 m to take an objective held by the enemy. An assault rifle is a military rifle which can be fired selectively either semi-automatically or fully automatically. It uses a relatively low-power cartridge and is generally designed for low-cost production, light weight, and use by minimally trained personnel. In the US, all these are subject to the National Firearms Act of 1934, and to state laws on automatic weapons. However, some state and federal laws also define many other semiautomatic rifles as "assault rifles".

Assault weapon:

A political/legal term variously defined in laws, ordinances, and speeches. It usually includes semiautomatic arms superficially resembling assault rifles, but is also often defined to include pistols and shotguns.


1. Spherical projectile
2. Ammunition with solid metal bullet, as opposed to blank, tracer, etc.


Fitting the metal parts of rifle to a wood or plastic stock. Often uses a glass fiber - epoxy resin combination ('glass bedding').

Bench rest:

1. A heavy table from which a rifle or pistol can be fired.
2. A heavy rifle made to be fired only from a bench rest.
3. Target competition won by the shooter who puts several bullets into the (single) smallest hole.


1. A zinc-copper alloy ('cartridge brass')
2. Slang for a cartridge case.

Browning, bluing:

Producing a thin layer of iron oxide on iron or steel to protect against rust. Usually done by immersion in hot salt solutions, but there are 'cold bluing' methods. A metal part to be blued later is "in the white". But note that John M. Browning was a major US designer of firearms, and that 'Browning' is a major current manufacturer.


The diameter of the bore; but for artillery and naval guns, the length of the barrel in numbers of diameters. For instance, a 5 inch 38 caliber gun would have a barrel 190 inches long.


(German: Karabiner). Typically a variation of a military rifle with a shortened barrel, used especially by mounted troops. Some carbines, though, do not have a longer version. The US M1 carbine, for instance, was not a shortened M1 rifle.


It was originally the part of the barrel that held the gunpowder. Now it is the part that holds the cartridge at the time of firing. The chamber is at the breech end of the barrel and may be enlarged somewhat to hold the cartridge. Revolvers have several separate chambers in a 'cylinder'.


Shotgun muzzle design or attachment to reduce spreading of shot.


See 'Magazine', but note that they are different.


A kind of muzzle brake which diverts powder gases upward to reduce the upward recoil.


A British type of smokeless power made in long thin cords. Often encountered in fiction as "the smell of cordite". No longer in production.


Refers to a primer which contains potassium chlorate.


A kind of rifle or shotgun barrel used until the late 19th century, made by a process giving a beautiful finish but insufficient strength for modern cartridges


The part of a semiautomatic firearm which prevents a second cartridge being fired until the trigger has been released and pulled again.


A three-barreled firearm, primarily European, with both rifle and shotgun barrels.


An early form of expanding bullet made at Dumdum Arsenal, India, in the 1890s, in an attempt to make the small bullets used in modern rifles as  effective as the much larger and heavier bullets used with black powder muskets.


Generally, a 'gun' carried and used by one person; but note that US legal definitions are variable and inconsistent.

Free rifle, free pistol:

A firearm designed solely for extreme accuracy in 'international' target shooting


(German): a firearm, usually a rifle. A 'Maschinengewehr' is usually a 'machine gun', not an 'automatic rifle'.


Hammer position, held away from the primer but with not enough spring compression to fire the primer if the hammer should fall. Pulling the trigger should not drop the hammer. (Source of the phrase "go off half-cocked").


The process of putting a fresh primer, powder charge, and bullet into a used brass cartridge case (the most expensive part).


Perceptible delay between hammer or firing pin impact and actual firing


(Verschlussabstand): The space available for the cartridge between the face of the breechblock and the part of the chamber that keeps the cartridge from  going forward. A critical dimension.

Machine gun:

(Maschinengewehr). Generally, an automatic weapon with ammunition fed from a belt, mounted on a tripod for firing from a fixed position. Early machine guns  had water-cooled barrels, but essentially all now are air-cooled. 'Heavy' machine guns were water-cooled; 'light' ones were air-cooled. Some air-cooled machine guns are mounted on bipods for better mobility (less weight). The term is also often used generically for other automatic weapons.

An 'automatic rifle' (automatische Gewehr) is generally a rifle designed to fire automatically from a 'box magazine' holding perhaps 20 cartridges. It usually can be fired from a bipod or from the shoulder or waist, and generally uses 'full- power' cartridges (a distinction from an 'assault rifle'). The best US example is the Model 1918 Browning Automatic Rifle (BAR).

A submachine gun (British: machine pistol; German: Maschinenpistole) fires pistol cartridges, usually with blow-back action, and is designed to be highly portable.

Use dictionaries and glossaries with particularly great care on this subject!


The part of a repeating (including semiautomatic and automatic) firearm that holds cartridges for use. In the magazine, a spring forces cartridges into position to be fed into the chamber by operation of the action. In many firearms, the magazine is an integral part. In others, separate magazines, each  with its own spring, fit into the 'magazine well'. Those separate magazines are often incorrectly called 'clips'. A clip is either: (a) a device which holds a set  of cartridges and is inserted as a whole into the magazine (Patronenrahmen) as in the US M1 rifle, or (b) a device which holds a set of cartridges which are pushed by the shooter into the magazine, as in the US M1903 Springfield rifle. This kind of clip is also a 'charger' (Streifenlader).


Refers to a primer composition containing a mercury compound. Non-mercurial primers are desired because traces of mercury in a fired cartridge case make it brittle and less useful for reloading.


Angular change in aim that moves the point of impact of an artillery projectile one meter at a range of 1000 meters.

Minute of angle (MOA):

In this context, angular change in aim that moves the point of impact of a rifle bullet one inch at 100 yards; only approximately a true mathematical minute of angle.

Muzzle brake:

An attachment to the muzzle which diverts powder gases backward to reduce recoil.


The pistol, and especially the 9 x 19 mm cartridge for it, designed by George Luger and adopted by the German army in 1908.


Used in the German sense of test (Prüf) (but the German word for it is 'Beschuss'). Testing a firearm with a particularly heavy charge to make sure that the firearm is strong enough for use.


A single cartridge.


(British 'sawn-off'). A shotgun (very rarely a rifle) with a barrel cut down to a  few inches. In US law, the minimum barrel length is 18 inches for shotguns and 16 inches for rifles.

Schützen (Schuetzen):

German: to guard or protect; or to shoot, especially at targets. In US English, a particular kind of rifle target shooting, and the rifle used for it, introduced by Americans of German descent.


Competitive shotgun shooting at 'clay pigeons' thrown from two different  locations.


Military shooting at specific enemy personnel at long range, typically 400-1000  meters. The term is commonly misused in the US media.

Telescope sight:

An optical sight which shows the shooter a magnified image of the target, with an indication (cross-hairs, for instance) of the point of aim. Because that display is in a single plane, a 'scope' sight does not require the shooter's eye to focus on both the front sight and the target at the same time - particularly useful for anyone above middle age.


Competitive shotgun shooting at 'clay pigeons' thrown from a single location.

Trigger weight:

(Abzugswiderstand). The force which must be applied to the trigger to fire; measured by hanging a weight on the trigger. It is typically around 4 pounds (2 kg) if the arm is cocked. About 12-18 pounds (5-8 kg) must be applied to cock a double-action pistol.


(Drall) Pitch of rifling, expressed as one turn in a distance along the barrel.


Variant of 'vermin', meaning small animal(s) considered pests and often not protected by game laws. They are not only small but very alert so that a hunter cannot get close. A "varmint rifle" is generally of small caliber (.22 - .25) but must be very accurate at 200-400 yards.


German. The sighting system, including both front and rear sights.


(Flachkopfwettkampfgeschoss) A cylindrical pistol bullet with a completely flat nose; used in target shooting to make clean-cut holes which are easier to score.


To adjust sights for a specific range by firing several trial shots at that range.


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