words mean things #2: clip vs magazine

I’ve been reading (with horror) about the execution of a police officer in Texas last night.  A man walked up behind the policeman, shot him in the head, then emptied his gun into the policeman as he lay on the ground.

This is a terrible situation, and there’s a lot that bothers me about it. Since I’m coming to you to talk about words and their meanings, let’s look at one of the numerous reasons you should be skeptical of media reports. When a reporter uses a word incorrectly, it not only shows disrespect towards our language, it shows carelessness in word choice and a lack of understanding.  I find it difficult to trust a journalist that doesn’t know the definition of a word.

In relation to this terrible situation, I have read in several accounts that the killer “emptied his clip” into the policeman.

He did not empty his “clip.”  He used a semi-automatic handgun; therefore, he emptied his “magazine” into the policeman.

A clip – invented in the very early days of long guns (rifles) that could store more than one round of ammunition (a “cartridge”) and be operated in that familiar bolt-action movement – looks like that on the right in the photo below.  (photo borrowed from Wikipedia & used under common license)


It was originally called a “stripper clip,” which was later shortened to just “clip.”  The basic function of the device is to “clip” together a number of cartridges, which can then be “stripped” quickly into the rifle’s magazine. When this is done, the clip itself falls free of the weapon and the cartridges are stored inside.  (In the photo above, the thing on the left is called a “box clip” or “block clip” and is the precursor to the detachable magazine. A block clip is stored inside the magazine along with the ammunition and gets ejected when it’s time to reload. It’s less fiddly than a stripper clip.)

A magazine, then, is an enclosed box of some sort that stores ammunition.  It can be permanently affixed to the weapon, as it would be for a rifle that uses clips, but it can also be detachable, as seen in the photo below.


A magazine contains a spring that keeps the ammunition under pressure so loading can be achieved quickly and efficiently, generally without any intervention or action on the part of the person firing the weapon.  Magazines in most modern firearms are detachable.

To remember the difference between these two things and thus have a small measure of credibility when you discuss firearms, keep in mind that a clip puts ammunition into a magazine, and the magazine stores the ammunition.  You could also remember that the military calls places where ammunition is stored – no matter its size – a magazine.  A magazine can hold six 9mm cartridges or 6,000 155mm artillery rounds.

words mean things #1: anchor baby

I decided just this morning to move forward with an idea I’ve had for a while.  It started as a concept for a series of columns about motorcycle issues, and I think I’m still going to do that, but here on my blog, it’ll take on a different form.

There’s this phrase that I say all the time:  “Words mean things.”  It’s true, you know, and I know you know, but I’ll explain what I mean anyway.  The English language is a complex and ever-changing beast, but it annoys me to no end when people use words to infer things that are beyond the definition of the words.

(We could start with infer and imply, but maybe that will pop up later, because I have an agenda today. I’m open to suggestions, though, so send them via email or leave them as a comment.)

First in the series:  ANCHOR BABY

An anchor baby is a child born in the United States to an illegal immigrant.  This term dates back to the 1990s but came into common use in the mid-2000s.

(I know it’s not PC to call people illegal immigrants these days – the term they want us to use is “undocumented immigrant.”  Well, documented or not, if you break immigration laws, you are indeed an illegal immigrant.  I mean no malice with the term – remember, words mean things, and “illegal” means ” against the law.” Calling somebody “undocumented” doesn’t mean they didn’t break the law, and saying something is illegal doesn’t mean you can’t disagree with the government about it. Until the laws change, if you break them, you’re doing something illegal.  That’s what the word means!)

The reason this is important to understand is because the USA has “birthright citizenship,” which means that every child born within its borders (which includes embassies, military bases in foreign lands, territories, etc.) is automatically a citizen.  This is something guaranteed by the 14th Amendment to the Constitution. The 14th Amendment states that anybody born or naturalized in the US is a citizen.  This amendment joined the Constitution in 1868 as a way to guarantee citizenship rights to former slaves freed as a result of the US Civil War.  Some were born in the USA, some were brought here forcefully, and the 14th Amendment made them all citizens.

This is coming up today because there’s this early swirl of bullshit surrounding the presidential candidacy of Louisiana Governor Piyush “Bobby” Jindal.  Jindal’s parents are from India; they came to the United States – LEGALLY – in January 1971.  Jindal was born in June 1971 and because his parents were here legally, he automatically became a citizen. While Mr. & Mrs. Jindal were not citizens at the time of their son’s birth, they were legal residents, which means the protections of the 14th Amendment apply to Bobby.

His status as a citizen – indeed ANY child’s status as a citizen of the United States – has no legal bearing on the parents’ eventual citizenship status.  Legally speaking, a child cannot sponsor or otherwise petition the US government for his/her parents’ citizenship until the age of 21.  Realistically speaking, the people that make these decisions are humans too, and are unlikely to boot an illegal immigrant mother out of the country when her infant is a citizen.  That is not to say that it never happens, but it’s not the first thing on the list.

So there you have it.  Anchor baby is a term used to describe the citizen child of a non-citizen parent presumed to be in the country illegally.  It’s not a nice thing to call somebody, and it probably doesn’t entirely mean what you think it means.

You might wonder why this is coming up right now.  Remember the “birther” stuff from a few years back?  That was when people were saying that Barack Obama wasn’t legally eligible to be president of the USA because he wasn’t a natural born citizen.  Some people still hang on to that bullshit, and the people who dislike them are going to hang on to this bullshit about Jindal.  It remains to be seen whether or not Jindal’s call to end birthright citizenship will backfire on him, but no doubt a segment of the American population will continue misusing this term to discredit him as he continues his fruitless attempt to become president.