The Hang Fire Books Blog

The rantings of a bookdealer in Brooklyn, New York.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Free Publicity

Patricia T. O'Conner, during her regular segment on WYNC's the Leonard Lopate Show, just took calls and held a discussion on the phrase "to hang fire." Apparently it was recently used to describe the Senate Democrats actions on the immigration bill. O'Conner wasn't sure of the phrase's origin but she traced it as far back as Henry James.

A caller pointed out that it likely came from the days of powder and ball firearms, and described a situation where you've pulled the trigger but your powder hasn't ignited. This could be a temporary state and you should keep your gun pointed in the right direction in case the powder goes off suddenly (this is not the same as a "flash in the pan" with means that your powder has burned away but has not propelled the ball out of the barrel).

In 19th century prose (and in James in particular) the phrase came to mean something like "to pause with intent" or to not say/do something because you want to wait until it will have the greatest effect.

To me this is a much sexier way to procrastinate. Books are piling up next to my desk but I'm "hanging fire".

Hopefully this widely heard call-in will head off some of the blank stares I get when I tell people the name of my bookstore (this is on top of explaining that it's a virtual bookstore, and yes those are zombies on my business card).

I guess I was hanging fire and never got around to absorbing the dictum that a business should have a simple, memorable name that describes what it does.

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