A Glancing Blow

A discussion of word histories and origins.
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A Glancing Blow

Postby Michael » Sun Aug 20, 2006 2:47 am

I was wondering if someone could help me with a question that relates to a passage in a book I'm currently writing. It had always been my understanding that the phrase "glancing blow" had, perhaps a century ago, meant the opposite of what it means today -- in other words, that it meant at one time "a direct, heavy blow," rather than "an oblique, partial blow," as it means today. I even recall, many years ago, reading an article about boxing in which the writer stated that the term was used in the opposite way 100 or so years ago. But when I went to the OED and some websites to confirm this original meaning, I found no trace of it. Was I mistaken? Does anyone know if "glancing blow" once had the opposite meaning? Thanks for your help!


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Postby Palewriter » Sun Aug 20, 2006 10:50 am

The Online Etymological Dictionary has this:

glance (v.)
1441, from glacen "to graze, strike a glancing blow" (c.1300), from O.Fr. glaichier "to slip, make slippery"

Looks like the current definition has been around for a while.

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Postby skinem » Sun Aug 20, 2006 11:55 am

First, Michael, welcome! Hope to see you again.
After looking for only about 30 minutes in a variety of language sites, I have to agree with Palewriter. I've never run across it in the meaning that you seem to remember it, but that doesn't mean a thing.

Good luck with you book! Can you give us any details about it?
My wife is a writer and is very private about it until finished, so I understand if you don't want to share it with us.

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Postby Bailey » Sun Aug 20, 2006 12:10 pm

Michael, Welcome fiirst and
you might want to be careful of using a word in an achaic sense in a modern book, I had a character using an archaic word in a period book and was roundly booed. None of the others had ever read a book written before their own birthdates.

mark moving(slowly)-with-the-times Bailey

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Postby Michael » Sun Aug 20, 2006 12:42 pm

Thanks for your help and your replies. I wasn't planning to use the word in the archaic sense, but rather to acknowledge in passing (one sentence in a 350-page non-fiction book) the existence of this archaic sense in order to make a larger point. But I won't do even that much if I can't find any documentation that there is in fact an older sense of the term. I remember distinctly on a couple of occasions many years ago people telling me of this older, opposite meaning, particuarly (as I recall) in the context of boxing journalism, but now I'm beginning to suspect that it was the etymological equivalent of an urban legend. Still, I'll keep on looking just out of curiosity -- if anyone else comes up with something, please let me know. I'll let you know about my book as soon as my agent sells it! Thanks again.

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Postby Huny » Mon Aug 21, 2006 1:52 am

Welcome Michael! I, too have only heard the term "glancing blow" used as it is used today. I have read many a period book in my day and have always assumed it meant a "slight blow or clip". For some dumb reason, when I see this word, I think of the word "fisticuffs". I often see both words used in period books and in present day books, even though they have similar but opposite meanings (does that even make sense?).

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Postby Stargzer » Mon Aug 21, 2006 1:13 pm

Unless it changed meaning between 1828 and 1913, I think it always meant an indirect hit, not a direct, heavy blow.

Webster's 1828 Dictionary
GL`ANCING, pp. Shooting; darting; casting suddenly; flying off obliquely.
Webster's 1913 Dictionary
Glancing (Page: 628)
Glan"cing (?), a.

1. Shooting, as light.

When through the gancing lightnings fly. Rowe.

2. Flying off (after striking) in an oblique direction; as, a glancing shot.
Of course, these are American definitions. Lord only knows what the English made of our language during that time. :wink:

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Re: A Glancing Blow

Postby bnjtokyo » Wed May 17, 2017 10:15 am

I spent some time using the ngram viewer to find the history of the phrase "glancing blow." This tool provides frequency and links to published examples in various periods. The phrase first gained prominence from about 1860. It peaked about 1865 then fell to a low around 1875. Since 1875 its usage has generally increased.

Although the context in the various publications does not always make the nature of a "glancing blow" clear, I think this example from the Journal of the Royal United Service Institution [1894] makes it clear that the object striking a "glancing blow" impacts the body that experiences the "glancing blow" at a small angle:
"The 'Bouvert,' capable of steaming at 11 knots struck the 'Meteor,' which could do only 6 knots, a glancing blow on the port bow at an angle of 5 [degrees], and rubbing along the port side, damaged the 'Meteor's' upper works, and upset two guns which had been run out ready for firing."

Gaylord's Medical Journal [1887] contrasts a "glancing blow" from a "straight blow" but does not define the angle of the axis of the force delivered with respect to the surface receiving the impact.

In Maine Reports: Cases Argued and Determined in the Supreme . . . [1886] someone testified "I should expect a direct blow to be productive of much more serious consequences than the glancing blow described." Although the angles of impact are not defined, I think the contrast between "direct blow" and "glancing blow" suggests the terms are used in a manner similar to the modern usage.

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