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EDITIONS
 Monday, 20 January, 2003, 12:20 GMT
Smoking gun: Where there's smoke?
smoking gunn 1. a recently discharged firearm, esp. one used in a murder. 2. colloq. US. any piece of incontrovertible incriminating evidence.

NOTE: when a misdeed is political or financial in nature, incontrovertible evidence of guilt can often be complex and dull, and can be rendered far more telegenic by being called "a smoking gun".

CURRENT USAGE: UN inspectors are currently hunting "smoking gun" evidence that Iraq possesses weapons of mass destruction.

CURRENT DEFINITION: "If we were to find a big supply of biological weapons, that would be a smoking gun. If we were to find chemical weapons, that would also be a smoking gun. If we find missiles that can run 200km, well, that would also be a smoking gun. If you only find documents that indicate something, well, that's not so smoking." Hans Blix, chief UN weapons inspector.

NOTE: UK Defence Secretary Geoff Hoon says uncovering "persuasive" evidence, rather than an incontrovertible "smoking gun", would be enough to trigger military action against Iraq.

CONFUSION: where such things as Scud missiles are concerned, it may be deemed prudent to find them before they begin smoking.

ORIGIN: the literal smoking gun was a staple of 19th and 20th Century whodunnit novels by the likes of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Agatha Christie.

APPROPRIATED: in the early 1970s, American journalists and politicians began talking of finding the smoking gun that would link President Nixon to the Watergate burglary. It turned out to be a taped 1972 conversation with his chief of staff.

FURTHER APPROPRIATED: The Smoking Gun is now a popular US website taking advantage of freedom of information laws to publish official documents about crimes and celebrities (esp. celebrity crimes).

NOTE: the site's most popular pages purport to carry not smoking gun documents, but copies of rock stars' backstage demands.

EXAMPLE: one band is reported to require concert venues to provide a snooker table - but the rockers thoughtfully bring their own balls.


Is that gun smoking? Comments and suggestions can be submitted to the E-cyclopedia by using the form below.

"Smoking gun" was preceded by "bloody hand" - the red-handed person presumed to have killed a deer. Classical thinkers called this sort of proof "inartifical" because you couldn't falsify it. They then invented law and rhetoric to help them explain away what couldn't be denied. Clearly, Saddam Hussein needs better lawyers.
B Carey, UK

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