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Why do we call it a rifle?

by | Aug 28, 2017 | Firearm Injuries |

The rifle has been a staple in the US military and for hunting for over a century. Many of us cannot imagine a life without our beloved rifle.

But the rifle is actually a newcomer to the world of weaponry. And it has an interesting history. 

Borrowed from the French

The term “rifle” is a  French word which means “to steal or plunder.”  It also means to scratch or file. 

This scratching or filing was what was done to the inside of a long gun barrel. People first used the term rifle to mean that a gun was rifled, or scratched inside. They called this type of weapon a “rifled muzzleloader.”

People needed to say “muzzleloader” because guns were not the only thing that was scratched or filed; 17th century cannons were too. And the first rifles were actually just that- cannons on poles that shot small balls. This type of weapon was first used in Germany in the 15th century.

Of course today most of us think of a rifle simply as a gun with stock and a long barrel.

Why the barrel is scratched

But there is a reason to scratch or file the inside of a long gun’s barrel. The grooves that are cut into the inside of the barrel create a spin along a bullet’s axis. This creates what is known as “gyroscopic stability.” This stability makes the bullet fly not only faster but more accurately.

One would think by applying basic physics that the spin would take away from the bullet’s speed, not increase it. But think of a football. What is the fastest way to the throw it? That’s right, a spiral. An aerospace engineer will tell you that this spin helps increase speed and causes less “drag.”

You can also think of a spinning top- the stronger the spin the harder it is to knock it off its axis. If is it spinning slowly it is not difficult to do this.

Of course, there’s no need to look down any gun barrels. Just know that the spiral scratching or “rifle” inside the barrel makes for a fast and straight projectile.




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