Firearms

Do You Use These Common Five Wrong Gun Terms?

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

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.

The Mission of Cheaper Than Dirt!'s blog, The Shooter's Log, is to provide information—not opinions—to our customers and the shooting community. We want you, our readers, to be able to make informed decisions. The information provided here does not represent the views of Cheaper Than Dirt!

Comments (66)

    1. 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”.

  1. 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”

  2. 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?

    1. 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.

  3. I have another precise term that’s germane; “pedantic”. It’s conversations like this that scare and intimidate those that would enjoy out sport.

  4. OK, I’m perhaps too lazy to look it up…was the term ‘pistol’ never used before semi-automatics were introduced?

    Sure seems like a revolver was often referred to as a ‘pistol’ by many people over many years as I was growing up(in the dark ages).

    Would you really correct someone who called a revolver a ‘pistol’ in a non-military, non-police, non-courtroom setting?

    AND…I don’t believe anyone answered my question…Can a sidearm be carried @ six o’clock? 12 o’clock? ankle holster? What makes it a sidearm?

    1. I agree with the “pistol” comment. When I was young a pistol was a handgun, revolver or automatic. In the Oklahoma handgun license law a pistol is still any handgun.

    2. Not exactly. If you qualify with a pistol for Oklahoma CCW, you are permitted to use either a pistol or revolver, while qualifying with a revolver gets you permission to use wheel-guns only. Upgrading to a pistol permit requires requalifying, so apparently Oklahoma law does make a distinction.

  5. I believe that you should know and use the correct names for the parts and everything dealing with subject of Guns and Ammunition, if you do not you are letting people know that you are not really familiar with handling and using them. TM-9-1005-211-35 list the object that holds the ammunition to be inserted into the 1911 as a magazine not a clip.

  6. Sorry to burst your bubble on number 0ne, but if you look at the original Department of the Army requirements for the Model 1911 pistol it clearly calls the ‘thingy’ that holds the bullets together in the pistol a CLIP. It has been that way for years. Basically it really doesn’t matter what you call them if everyone understands what it is.

  7. I find these debates are always entertaining. People get so worked up on both sides of the “correct terminology” issue. To me, it’s simply a communication issue. The purpose of any language is to accurately communicate an idea to another person. “Accurately” being the key word here, so proper terminology IS CRITICAL in this regard, especially when writing laws. The notion that a term that has been misused for decades should be accepted is dangerous. That’s how the media gets irrational ideas to sound rational. Before long, “assault rifle” will be considered accurate for any firearm other than bolt actions. The other pet peeve of mine is when the media/movies talk about “unregistered” firearms. It’s seems as if the first question a non-gun owner asks when they see a gun is “Is that thing registered?” It’s all part of the “lies become truth if enough people believe them” tactic that is permeating our politics right now.

  8. In the beginning of your article you mention AR-15 and AK-47.I don’t think too many people have select fire AK’s.Ibelive the semi auto version is a MAK-90.An AK-47is an assault rifle

  9. This has been a fun blog and posts. brings back many memories .Have enjoyed all of them.There have been almost 50 comments. It is a little sad that the MEMORIAL DAY blog only has 10. It sounds like most of us on this page have served .

  10. I understand using the terms magazine vs clip, or ammunition vs bullets or even gun vs pistol if you were in the military. The only problem with that is some people on here have never been in the military. There is nothing wrong with going to the store and asking for bullets
    Why is that even though the bullet is the only thing leaving the gun yes I said gun is after all part of the ammunition. Who are people to say what to call things unless they invented the word or think they are just so perfect in the gun world. Last time I checked it the anatomical word for the piece between a mans legs was not a gun. So should we make people who use that term take an anatomy class.Come on people get off your high horse and go with the flow.

  11. I agree with most of your words except for two of them. 1) I go int shops to buy strictly 36, 44 and 45 caliber bullets and have to also get black powder and caps in order to fire the revolvers. Hence, I go to buy “bullets”. 2) After 20 years in the Army I know that “guns” are toys and we use weapons, rifles and pistols.

    1. Well, yeah. You’re talking about SEMI-fixed ammo where powder, shot and primer are separate components. Not “fixed” ammo where it’s all together in one cartridge. I don’t have to register “my” guns because the projectile (“bullet”) weighs between 1900 and 2700 pounds and is loaded first into the breech and forced into the rifling. Then up to 6 bags of propellent (660 pounds total) is loaded behind it and another guy has to put the primer (looks like a .43 Spanish blank) in the breech block before closing the breech, aiming and firing at a target over the horizon.

      Okay. I’m being silly here. But there is a heck of alot of difference between guns and their ammo as to whether you need to buy a box of full up “fixed” cartridges or components of bullets, powder, primers and/or flints for “semi-fixed” ammunition.

  12. Reading your version of correct terminology brings back memories of what I was taught in the Army. This is my Rifle and this is my Gun, This is for Shootin and this is for Fun.

  13. CTD sells air rifles. What would happen if i went to a air gun show and referred to fire arms as REAL guns? shtf?

  14. Well, let me see how organized this order is:

    Number 5: Handle vs. Grip
    Number 4 : Kick vs. Recoil
    Number 4 :Thingy v. Pretty Much Anything that Protrudes Out of the Gun
    And the number 1 worst wrong term… Clip V Magazine

    THAT IS A TOTAL OF ONLY 4 NOT 5. I UNDERSTAND YOUR CONFUSION THOUGH, SINCE YOU CAN’T COUNT.

    and then Suzanne says:
    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.

    Suzanne, you can’t count from 1 to 5, but you say/ask “…. are there any other words you can think of that you might be getting wrong?”

    Give me a break.

    Here is my question. “What are you smoking/using?” I don’t want it.

    1. Good catch Bill OB… numbering is corrected. Thanks for pointing out the error.

      Number 5: Handle v. Grip
      Number 4: Kick v. Recoil
      Number 3: Bullets v. Ammunition
      Number 2: Thingy v. Pretty Much Anything that Protrudes Out of the Gun
      Number 1: Clip v. Magazine

    2. Hey Bill OB, I suggest you count again — Suzanne DID list FIVE items.
      I think you owe the lady an apology.

  15. Just because the terms have been historically incorrect for decades does not qualify them for being the correct terms. Imagine yourself as the Supply Officer of your Battalion ordering four cases of 9mm “clips” so the unit’s tank crews have enough spare “magazines” for their pistols. You have ordered the Corporal to make out the order form for “clips” so he looks up the stock number for “clips, stripper, 9mm NATO” instead of “magazines”.

    I’m sure your Battalion Commander may be having you come to his HQ to ask for YOU to pay for stripper clips while his tankers still have some empty magazine pockets in their vests.

    Some of my neck hairs get a little prickly when somebody calls my Battleship (USS Iowa (BB-61) just a “Big Boat”.

  16. Clip or magazine; revolver or pistol — yes they may not be Exactly correct -but who cares? These terms have been used interchangeably for decades, it seems only with the advent of the internet and all the “experts” has it become such a big deal about what term you use. Personally I don’t care if you call you Colt New Frontier a “pistol”, or if you put a “clip” in your CZ 75 – – and anybody that does is ignorant of historical norms.

  17. On television, newspaper, magazines, InterNet and other sources, so many people insist on saying ” Pistol ” whether it’s really a ‘ Pistol ‘ or a ‘ Revolver ‘, , , they obviously think any ” Handgun ” is automatically and categorically a Pistol. Ignorant of the fact that differentiates the two. When you stop to explain that a Pistol is Magazine fed and a Revolver has the rotating cylinder, they act like you’re feeding them Horse Hockey.

    1. I was hoping somebody would address those technical differences and I thnak you. That has always bugged me as well. Also some script writers (and actors who don’t know the difference) may describe a true pistol as a FULL AUTOMATIC pistol. 99.9% of pistols are “merely” semi-automatic firing only one projectile – er – bullet on a single “pull” of the trigger. There have been a few attempts of converting some pistols to have full auto capabilities but failed either by extreme cost, un-reliability or a waste of ammo as the recoil forces the gun’s muzzle up and you’re shooting at ducks instead of a rabid Coyote.

    2. Besides the obvious use to refer to a semi-automatic handgun, I am quite sure the term “pistol” would be correct to use for not only a revolver but also for other handguns, such as break action, or muzzle loading, etc.

  18. When I was taking Army basic training (1959), any poor recruit who dared refer to his M-1 as a gun would spend the next hour (or more) holding his M-1 in his left hand, hoisting it high overhead and at the top of his lungs would scream, “This is my RIFLE”. Lowering the rifle, he would then point to his crotch with the right hand and scream, “This is my GUN”. Holding the M-1 aloft again, he would shout, “This is for FIGHTING”. Lowering the rifle and again pointing to his crotch, he would shout, “This is for FUN!”. Repeat rapidly until the Drill Sarge said you could stop.

  19. A “cartridge” or “round” consists of a “casing” into the bottom of which is placed a “primer.” Next the “powder” is placed into the “casing” and then a “bullet” is seated into the “neck” of the casing. Once all these components are assembled, properly, you have a “cartridge.” One “cartridge” is usually called just that or “round.” Very seldom is one “round” called “ammunition.” “Ammunition” can be a “shot shell,” handgun or rifle “cartridge,” “BB’s” for a BB gun, “pellets” for a pellet gun, or even “balls” and “powder” used in loading a “muzzle loader. Another commonly misused term is “gun.” A “gun” is normally a “smooth bore” firearm as opposed to a firearm with “lands” and “grooves,” commonly called “rifling.”

  20. The wrong terminology that gets me is when someone is talking about a 45 Colt and referees to the cartridge or the firearms as a 45 Long Colt. There is no such thing as a 45 LONG Colt, no firearm or cartridge has ever been named a 45 Long Colt by a manufacturer, only by people that don’t know what they are talking about. The confusion comes from the fact there is a 38 Long Colt, and a shorter 38 Colt.

    1. I have to partially disagree. There really are two types of .45 caliber handgun ammunition. There is the .45 APC (Automatic Pistol Cartidge) used in semi (and some full auto) guns such as the Colt 1911 and the Thompson SMG. They are designed specifically as a “rimless” cartridge case with a groove around the base so the ejector/extracter can clear spent case out of the gun.

      Then there is the .45 “Long” Colt cartridge that, in fact, is longer than the .45 APC but is a rimmed case designed to shoot in revolvers such as our famous Single Action “Peace Makers”.

      The two rounds are not interchangable in anyway. So when you walk up to the sales counter to buy ammo for your Ruger Blackhawk, you ask for .45 Long Colt so the salesman will pick up the right box for you instead of .45 ACP.

    2. Sorry man, but it’s 45 ACP (Automatic Colt Pistol) for use in the M1905 developed John Browning. As with most ammunition out there, it’s usually named after person/manufacturer/firearm it was originally intended to be used with. However, I have seen small ammunition manufacturers refer to the 45 Colt as the 45 Long Colt, to prevent confusion with 45 ACP. It just happens.

    3. Ooops! You’re right. The proof reader portion of my brain was still a little blurry after giving a presentation to our tour guides as to the different types of armor (and where its at and why) on the Battleship Iowa. Been a couple of decades since I had to give similar presentations of designs to NAVSEA when we reactivated the Iowa class ships in the 80’s.

      Or maybe it’s just my age going on 78.

      My congrats for catching the error.

  21. I’m put in mind of a legislator commenting after Newtown: it was clear she thought that limiting the sales of mags would curtail firearms use because she thought that “bullets” came in non-reusable containers.
    NRA ought to hold classes for legislators smart enough to know what they don’t know…

  22. Educating folks is always a good idea. Thanks for the article. And yes, for some of us, the use of the word “gun” brings back memories of Ft. Dix and the winter of ’78. But at the end of the day, I can live with a misplaced word now and then, without feeling the need to pretentiously correct someone, like the steriotypical “help” at the local “gun” shop. What I CAN’T and WON’T live with are the morons that Marty is talking about.

  23. If we are being picky, you stated “The clip feeds the magazine and the magazine feeds the gun.” I was taught that a rifle had lands and grooves and a gun did not, “smooth Bore” so if you called your rifle a gun you would be walking around the training field as the gentlemen stated above reciting after the drill instructor the difference between a rifle and gun.
    Wouldn’t “The clip feeds the magazine and the magazine feeds the firearm.” be more correct? Just saying.

  24. Suzanne, that was a wonderful article. Thank you. Some comments, first, since shoot ARs it is interesting to note that they can have both a handle and a grip. Second there are several other “proper” synonyms for ammunition, both rounds and cartridges are acceptable.

  25. I don’t think that it’s the gun’s recoil that forces a new round into the chamber; it’s the returning slide, which was sent (“kicked?” 🙂 backward by the gun’s recoil).

    1. Noah there are two types of actions in semi-auto weapons, gas-operated and recoil-operated so, yes the recoil does chamber the next round. Most all handguns are recoil operated. Now the ‘kick’ is the felt recoil. “man that rifle has a kick”…”that rifle kicks like a mule”

  26. When I lived in NY I called my representative in opposition to the safe act. During the course of the conversation he thought a muzzle break was a silencer, didn’t have a clue what a shroud was and thought any rifle which was “black” was an assault rifle. Yet he was voting for the bill.

  27. Bullet:V: Ammunition:V:Cartridge?? Just thought I would add another word to your article.
    Thanks for the clairfications.

  28. He asks if there is anything else that might be wrong! How about “This is my RIFLE, this is my GUN (grabs dick) this is for fighting (raises rifle) this is for FUN (grabs dick again) anyone else remember that ditty from basic or is that now politically incorrect and perhaps even (gasp) offensive?

  29. I can’t decide if people are being politically correct or just picking the fly poop out of the pepper.

  30. The best definition I ever heard, and which I try to teach to everyone is, a magazine has a spring, a clip doesn’t. But some people you just can’t teach, my son-in-law for one.

  31. What’s really funny, I have some older books of gun values from the 70’s every semi auto pistol or rifle had a clip not a magazine. That is what it states in the description. I also have an old ruger 10/22 magazine but the package clearly states clip. This is an oem part.

  32. The “suppressor” vs ” silencer” debate could be amply addressed if all would just agree that the “muffler” on the end of the barrel best describes the device in question.
    As to the “rights” that are so argued about I tend toward referring to my “Liberties” instead.

    1. Liberties would be the actions we can take because of the foundation of our rights.The supreme court has upheld our right to own guns. Lower powers regulate away our Liberties as to type, ammo, how many, ect. The local powers are the ones we need to pressure . They take them away one small bite at a time.

  33. If you don’t learn to “handle” your weapon you might “clip” your “thingy” with a “bullet”. So get a “grip” or you will “recoil” when your name is in a gossip “magazine”. Just ask the pro ball player who shot himself when he was out at a club.” Stripper clip”?

  34. How about silencer vs. suppressor? Suppressor being the correct one. There is nothing that can completely silence a firearm. Even if you can eliminate the explosive noise of the round going off in the chamber, there is still the sound of the bolt moving back and forth.

  35. Pretty much spot on. Aside from people confusing “clip” with “magazine,” my biggest pet peeve is when people refer to the AR as an “assault rifle,” which is not what AR stands for.

  36. But, but, but…what about the difference between ‘auto-loader’ and ‘semi-auto’ or ‘automatic’? What about pistol(auto-loader) vs revolver(not a pistol?)

    Can you carry a sidearm in a shoulder holster?

    Life sure is complicated 😉

  37. Nomenclature, as it was taught to us, was so important that you had to memorize it and your D I frequently checked to make sure you had. But we seem to have gotten bogged down in semantics. At the height of the gun control controversy last year I was corrected by our range coach for referring to my 1911 as my weapon. He stressed the importance of using the word ‘firearm.’ I didn’t question him at the time but I suspect it was because it’s friendlier and more politically correct. At the range it’s my pistol and at home it’s my weapon. It is a lot easier if we all speak the same language. Hank

    1. Yes, it is “friendlier,” and there is no other reason I can think of for using “firearm” instead of “weapon,” other than that a firearm is a type of weapon, not vice versa.

    2. I heard the same thing at the range – I heard “weapon implies intent” and I should use “rifle” or “pistol”. What intent you apply to my diction is your issue, not mine – sorry.

  38. Even worse than using “clip” instead of magazine is using “assault weapon” for anything that isn’t capable of a fully-automatic rate of fire. It isn’t a common mistake among gun owners, but it happens.

    While not a gun term per se, but closely related, is referring to government “rights” instead of “powers.” Citizens have rights – governments have powers.

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