Origins of the Phrase ‘Lock, Stock, and Barrel’

a dumped suitcase to illustrate unpacking lock, stock, and barrel at the airport

Have you ever talked about doing some thing ?Lock, stock, and barrel??

If so, you meant you have been doing some thing in its entirety.

You may have said you had been cleansing the whole lot from your closet?Lock, stock, and barrel. Or which you had to empty the whole lot out of your bag?Lock, stock, and barrel?When you went through airport safety.

You may have used this idiom for years without understanding its origin. And you might be amazed to realize that the three words on this word talk over with the three parts of a gun.

Picture an old-fashioned musket?The sort used inside the American revolution.

  • The lock is the firing mechanism. That’s the part of the gun where a match or a spark was used to ignite gunpowder. The flash of gunpowder would ignite the main charge in the gun, which would propel a musket-ball forward.
  • The stock is the thick wooden end of a gun. Picture a minuteman nestling the butt of his musket into the crook of his shoulder. That part’s the stock.
  • Finally, the barrel is the long, cylindrical part of the gun. That’s the tube down which a bullet travels.

The first known use of this term in a metaphoric sense is in a letter written by Sir Walter Scott in 1817. In describing a broken fountain he wanted to put in his garden, he wrote that “Like the Highlandman’s gun, she wants stock, lock, and barrel, to put her into repair.” In other words, nearly every part of it needed to be fixed.

A variation of this phrase that’s now obsolete is “horse, foot, and artillery.” These items referred to the components of an army. The “horse” is the cavalry; the “foot” is the soldiers; and the “artillery” is the weaponry, be it bows, catapults, or howitzers and rockets.

In one of the Anne of Green Gables books, Anne is described as peppering her teacher with impossible questions. “Anne routed her horse, foot, and artillery,” the narrator writes. In other words, Anne destroyed her entirely, depleting every ounce of self-possession she had.

So, that?S your tidbit for nowadays. ?Lock, inventory, and barrel? Refers to the three elements of a gun, and the expression method ?The whole component.?

That segment was written by Samantha Enslen who runs Dragonfly Editorial. You can find her at or on Twitter as @DragonflyEdit.


Allen, Robert. Allen?S Dictionary of English Phrases. Lock, stock, and barrel. Penguin, 2008.

Ammer, Christine. Lock, stock, and barrel. American Heritage Dictionary of Idioms, 2nd ed. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2013.

Barrere, Albert, and Charles Leland. Lock, stock, and barrel. A Dictionary of Slang, Jargon & Cant. London, George Bell & Sons, 1897.

Encyclopedia Britannica, online edition. Flintlock, matchlock, percussion lock (subscription required, accessed November 10, 2017).

Lockhart, John G. Memoirs of the Life of Sir Walter Scott: In Three Volumes, Volume 2. Baudry’s European Library, 1837.

Montgomery, L. M. Chronicles of Avonlea. L.C. Page & Company, 1912

Oxford English Dictionary, online edition. Oxford University Press. Lock (subscription required, accessed November 10, 2017).

Westwood, Alison. The Little Book of Cliches: From Everyday Idioms to Shakespearean Sayings. Canary Press eBooks Limited, 2011.

Image courtesy of Shutterstock.

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