Writing war books as I for some bizarre reason seem to do quite a bit (built in conflict?), I occasionally find myself looking up terms that have to do with weapons, fighting, etc. And sometimes–like this time–I’m quite surprised by what I find!
Apparently, I’ve been using shrapnel incorrectly. I’m pretty sure I’ve used it in a story before, and if I have, then it’s been wrong. Because it wasn’t until WW2 that shrapnel came to mean “shell fragments, any fragmented pieces that become airborne.”
Lt. Henry Shrapnel
So what was it before? A specific type of ammunition, actually, invented in 1784 by British military man Lt. Henry Shrapnel. His creation was actually a sort of cannonball that was filled with shot, meant to explode in the air and rain the shot down on the enemy. Though he dubbed it “spherical ammunition,” it was soon given his name instead.
So though the word was in use for a loooooong time, it didn’t take on the sense of “fragments,” often produced because of an explosion, until 150 years after its invention.

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