Do You Use These Common Five Wrong Gun Terms?

By Suzanne Wiley published on in Firearms

For many immersed in gun culture, there are a few words and phrases we hear all the time that sound like nails running down a chalkboard. For example, the cringe-worthy term “assault weapon” the media uses when describing our beloved AR-15s and AK-47s.

Many gun people—especially those with a lot of patience—understand a new shooter more than likely learns gun terminology through TV and movies, or perhaps from a friend or family member who never learned the correct words. Many of these words are commonly used even outside the gun community and usually everyone—pro or anti—recognize what those words mean. I’m not sorry when I say this, but many of those commonly used words are, quite frankly, wrong.

Picture is a close up of a man loading a stripper clip full of ammo into a rifle magazine.

Do you know the difference between clips and magazines?
This person is using a clip to load a magazine.

Don’t worry, I’m not going to shame you. I just want to educate you. When you replace the following five misused words with the correct ones, you will sound less like an amateur and more like a seasoned shooter.

Number 5: Handle v. Grip

The definition of handle:

1. “Feel or manipulate with the hands”

2. “The part by which a thing is held, carried, or controlled.”

Before you jump down my throat regarding the definition of the word handle—the part on the gun we refer to as the grip—yes, a grip is technically a handle. However, grip is the proper name for the part of the gun you hold.

Grip also defines how you hold the gun. There is a right and wrong way to grip a gun. To learn how to grip a semi-automatic pistol, read “Handgun Basics 101: Get a Good Grip.” To learn how to properly grip a revolver, read “Get a Grip and Don’t Lose Your Thumb! How to Correctly Grip Your Revolver.”

Handle isn’t entirely verboten in gun terminology. If someone asks, “can you handle a gun?” or “how does that gun handle?” they are using the term correctly. If you know how to safely operate a gun, aim the gun’s sights and hit a target, then yes, you do know how to handle a gun. As far as the second question is concerned, when asked, tell the person your opinion about how the gun shoots.

Number 4: Kick v. Recoil

The definition of kick:

1. “Strike or propel forcibly with the foot”

2. “A sudden forceful jolt.”

Kick is a colloquial term that is not necessarily incorrect; however, the proper term for the force you feel from the bullet exiting the barrel is recoil.

The force created from the expanding gases in the gun’s chamber causes the gun to physically push back toward your hand. Thus, people call this action “kickback” or kick for short. There is a mathematical equation for this force of momentum and energy explaining the reason why you feel recoil, but I’m not going to go into it here. Hey! I’m a writer, not a scientist.

Though the recoil from the gun is “a sudden forceful jolt,” guns do not have feet and it is not kicking you.

Picture shows a rifle cartridge on top and the bullet under it.

The bullet is only the projectile that exits the barrel of the gun and hits your target. Picture on top is the ammo and on bottom is the bullet.

Number 3: Bullets v. Ammunition

Personally, I believe bullet is the most common misused gun term. I have even heard highly knowledgeable gun owners and shooters call ammunition, bullets. However, unlike kick and handle using the word bullets to describe what you load into the gun is completely incorrect.

The bullet is only the projectile that exits the barrel of the gun and hits your target. The bullet is seated into the cartridge or case. The cartridge is the long skinny part of the entire thing and holds the primer, powder and bullet at the top. Loading just a bullet into your gun is useless. Bullets will not do anything without the rest of the cartridge containing the powder and primer.

Next time you go to the shooting range say, “I need to buy some ammunition” instead of “I need to get bullets.” Unless you are reloading your own ammo, you have no need to buy just bullets.

Number 2: Thingy v. Pretty Much Anything that Protrudes Out of the Gun

I’m guilty of using the word “thingy” when it comes to parts in my car, however, we all know there is nothing in the world officially named “thingy.” Thingy versus the gun’s actual parts is high on the list, because if you are going to buy and use a gun, you need to know how to use it properly. Using it properly means you know how to identify every part on the gun. That thingy is your safety—knowing how to operate this is priority number one. That thingy is also your gun’s magazine release so you can reload; the trigger so you can shoot; the slide stop so your gun will go back into battery; the sights to help you hit what you are aiming for and pretty much anything else that allows you to operate the gun safely and correctly.

And the number 1 worst wrong term…

Picture shows an info graphic describing and showing the differences between a clip and a magazine.

One of the simplest ways I have heard the difference between clips and magazines described, “The clip feeds the magazine and the magazine feeds the gun.”

Clip V. Magazine

Clip and magazines both hold ammunition. Both aid in loading ammunition. However, magazines and clips do not look anything alike or function the same. Clips and magazines are not interchangeable. A clip is an item that holds ammunition to ease loading the fixed box internal magazine of a long gun.

Clips—originally meant to be disposable—are generally made of cheaper metal and hold ammunition by the case rim while you load it into a rifle’s fixed magazine. Stripper clips, used for loading an SKS, for example, do not stay inside the rifle once you have used it to load the rifle’s magazine. En bloc clips, used to load the M1 Garand, stay inside the rifle until the last round fires. To reload a revolver, full moon and half moon clips are used.

Magazines are either removable or fixed. When one misuses the term “clip” to refer to a magazine, they generally are talking about a removable magazine, such as ones commonly used with semi-automatic pistols and rifles. Unlike a clip, a magazine is an enclosed container that includes a feed spring, follower and feed lips. After firing the first round through your gun, the recoil forces the slide back, ejecting the spent cartridge. When the slide comes forward again, the gun’s recoil forces a new live round from the gun’s magazine into the chamber.

One of the simplest ways to remember the difference between clips and magazines is, “The clip feeds the magazine and the magazine feeds the gun.”

Now that I have given you five very important terms to know and use correctly, are there any other words you can think of that you might be getting wrong? Ask your questions in our comment section.


Introduced to shooting at young age by her older brother, Suzanne Wiley took to the shooting sports and developed a deep love for it over the years. Today, she enjoys plinking with her S&W M&P 15-22, loves revolvers, the 1911, short-barreled AR-15s, and shooting full auto when she gets the chance. Suzanne specializes in writing for the female shooter, beginner shooter, and the modern-day prepper. Suzanne is a staff writer for Cheaper Than Dirt!

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Comments (66)

    • Tom M


      I believe that intimate knowledge of your firearms is very important to being able to safely handle it. If you don’t know the proper terminology it looks to me like you could could still benefit from a little more education?

      That being said, the classic Lynyrd Skynyrd tune wouldn’t be the same if it was ” Gimme Back My Ammunition”.


  • Tom


    I’ve known the difference between “bullets” and “ammunition” since I was around 10 and almost always use the correct terminology but for those of us who grew up in the age of the classic TV westerns, there are times one might be tempted to substitute “bullets” for the proper term…
    …for instance, the classic Lynyrd Skynyrd tune wouldn’t be the same if it was “give me back my ammunition”


  • Chris Kay


    “This is my rifle, this is my gun, this is for fighting and this is for fun!”


  • Dean


    The term rifle is interesting to me, since most pistols, revolvers, and “rifles” these days all have a rifled barrel. When is a rifle a carbine, and when is it just a rifle?


    • dg


      i’d learned that a carbine is a rifle with a barrel shorter than 16″, but today’s research shows this isn’t quite correct.

      i cannot find anything that specifies an exact barrel length, only that a carbine is a ‘shorter barrel than standard’. one definition i’ve found states that a carbine is a ‘long arm but with a shorter barrel than a rifle…’.

      i’m hoping someone here can clear this up!

      meanwhile, i think educating each other on these terms is a good idea, but there are limits. i don’t want to turn off any potential enthusiast because i was a jerk about the differences between ‘handle’ and ‘grip’.

      i do think that ‘clip’ vs. ‘mag’ should be taught, but again, folks, please don’t be a pedantic blowhard about it. it is good to know that there is a difference between ‘rifle’ and ‘gun’, but i’m not willing to lose any friends over it.


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