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    Blowback starts with fire under pressure



    Story by Collen McGee 

    Fort Riley Public Affairs Office

    Dear Doc Jargon,

    I’ve been in the Army for a while, in fact, I have fewer years between now and retirement than I do between now and my first enlistment. So, my question about a military term might be a bit dated, as the term is used differently than when I first heard it.
    My question is about the term ‘blowback.’ When I first came in, it was used in reference to the recoil or gas blowing the cartridge out of the rear of the chamber. Lately, I’ve heard it where the term is used to describe the consequences, planned or unexpected, of an action – mostly the term is about negative consequences. For example, a Soldier might show up late or talk back to their NCO and the blowback is the result of that – usually disciplinary.
    I’m not really a word nerd most of the time, but I’d love to know where the term started and how it has morphed. Can you help?

    Word Curious

    Dear Word Curious

    I get you – I started out as word curious and now I spend part of every week geeking out over words and phrases and I enjoy it. Anyway, I can definitely help you with this one. You are on the right track as the technical modern meaning is for both the escape of gases during firing a weapon or those found in a boiler or an internal combustion engine. It’s a total employment of Sir Isaac Newton’s third law of motion. Basically, Newton said that for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. That law applied to combustion and channeled into a chamber, piston or any other space designed to create a bit of pressure to drive something into motion is a factor of that blowback and Newton’s law.
    In the case of a weapon, like a 9mm pistol, the combustion is that little primer at the end of the shell casing. For a boiler, it might be heat or steam from a fire and for a car, it is the pistons when the spark plug ignites a measure of fuel.
    But, this new use you mention about it referring to consequences has its root, according to my sources, in the secret operative world of three-letter agencies like the FBI, CIA and some other intelligence community types. For those folks, since the late 1950s, it refers to the unwanted side-effects, or repercussions, of a covert operation. So, the way you said you heard it used for consequences would be a natural leap for that meaning from the bang to the flash.
    I hope that helps and don’t feel ashamed about being a wordy – some of my best friends play with their words before they say them.

    Doc Jargon.

    Email your military lingo questions to Doctor Jargon at doctorjargon@gmail.com.



    Date Taken: 01.10.2020
    Date Posted: 01.14.2020 17:39
    Story ID: 359175
    Location: KS, US

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