A person. Sometimes this phrase is used to describe someone who is behaving badly.
Example: I went to go see my grandpa this weekend. He lives down in Texas and it’s been many a year since I’ve spoken to him in person, so I was really excited to see him. The moment he saw me, he stretched out his arms and said, “You son of a gun! Get over here and give your grandpa a hug.” I don’t like hugs, but I couldn’t resist in this case.
Son Of a Gun – Origin
The origin of this phrase is not clear. There are theories that talk about where it may have come from. For example, it’s thought that the origins may be from British Navy ships, where pregnant women onboard the ship apparently had to give birth near the broadside guns. In his book from 1867, The Sailor’s Word-Book, William Henry Smyth wrote concerning this phrase:
“An epithet conveying contempt in a slight degree, and originally applied to boys born afloat, when women were permitted to accompany their husbands at sea; one admiral declared he literally was thus cradled, under the breast of a gun-carriage.”
So it’s possible that this saying originates in some way from British Navy ships.
There’s also a story written by Legrand G. Capers in the American Medical Weekly, 1864. The story is about a man who was shot through the scrotum and the bullet traveled and lodged itself in a woman, who later became pregnant. In a subsequent issue, however, there was an editor’s note that implied the article was to be taken more as a joke, not seriously.
While the phrase was thought to originate from this story, it clearly does not. The reason? The phrase ‘son of a gun’ is found more than a century earlier than the mentioned story, so its origins are obviously from an earlier time.
The earliest known quote of this expression in print, according to ThePhraseFinder, is from the year 1708, from The British Apollo No. 43:
“You’re a Son of a Gun.”
Besides this, the earliest that I could find of the phrase in writing is from the Gentlemans Magazine and Historical Chronicle, 1786:
“Son of a gun. I remember to have heard this phrase frequently when a child, but as an expression rather of good-humour than reproach.”
- Eric, you son of a gun! I can’t believe you brought me and my family out to eat at such a stunning restaurant. That was a nice thing to do.
Note: We have the meanings for common phrases, and even the origins for them too! However, the origins for many idioms are unclear. Hence, in cases where a phrase’s origin is unclear, what you will see listed are plausible theories on how a phrase originated. If no theory is listed, there will usually be a quote.
These quotes are the typically the oldest known quote of the a phrase being used in print. These quotes mostly come from newspapers, books, or poems, and they are there to give you an idea for how old an idiom potentially is. So, for example, if an expression is in print in a book from 1620, then the expression is at least that old.