• shrapnel •
Pronunciation: shræp-nêl • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Noun, mass (no plural)
Meaning: 1. Fragments from an exploded artillery shell, mine, or bomb. 2. Metal balls or chunks of metal in an antipersonnel shell that explodes above enemy troops; a shrapnel shell. 3. (Australia, New Zealand, South Africa slang) Pocket change, metallic money.
Notes: There is nothing unusual or interesting about today's Good Word, except for the Australian, Kiwi, and South African slang usage. I held this word back in hope something more would turn up, but, alas, nothing has.
In Play: The problem with shrapnel shot is that it dispenses its load randomly and is highly inaccurate: "Harry had put his helmet on awkwardly in his rush to the battlefield, but a piece of shrapnel set it straight for him." I like the way the word is used on the other side of the Earth: "Major Slaughter always put a bit of shrapnel in the offering plate when it passed him on Sundays."
Word History: Lieutenant Henry Shrapnel began working on his new antipersonnel weapon in 1784, but it wasn't until 1804 that the British first used it in the war against the Dutch at Fort Amsterdam in Surinam. The British high command was so pleased with it that they made Shrapnel a major and his name an eponym as well. Until that time, armies were limited to using "canister shot". This involved loading a canister of shot instead of a ball into the cannon. The disadvantage of this was that the canister split open as soon as it came out of the cannon and was effective for only about 300 meters. Shrapnel's invention carried two charges: one to carry it out of the cannon and another, fitted with a timer, that caused it to empty its load over the heads of the enemy. (Chris Stewart, who always has a bit of shrapnel in his pocket, should be congratulated for submitting today's Good Word and pointing out its usage in South Africa.)