When a guy gets in a hurry to be involved in a particular thing he may act prematurely. That is, get involved before he completely understands what he is getting into and not prepared to adequately deal with it. Others may accuse him of “going off half-cocked.” How and where did that saying originated? It was derived concerning the seventeenth century flintlock muskets. The firing hammer of those guns looked somewhat like a rooster. A male fowl was often called a cock. Thus to pull the hammer of those guns all the way back is to say it was fully cocked. It was in that position that the gun could be fired. However, if the hammer was pulled to the half way position then it was referred to as being half-cocked. That was the position considered being on safety. It could not be fired while remaining half-cocked. It also had to be in that position in order to allow access to the priming pan to charge and load the gun. The hammer of the musket contains the flint used to strike the frizzen (also called the battery) to set off a spark to ignite the primer charge in the pan. It will in turn flash the fire down into the barrel of the gun to the main charge which will blow the bullet out of the barrel.
If in the heat of a battle a soldier forgot to pull the hammer of his gun all the way then it would not fire. This could be embarrassing or even fatal to the soldier if he could not defend himself at a moment’s notice. A half-cocked musket would not fire. In time the expression: “Go off half-cocked” came to mean attempting to be involved in an effort without being fully prepared.
You and I should be well aware of what needs to be done to accomplish before proceeding with a task. Otherwise, we will come up short of our desired goal, maybe even embarrassed.
Dub Mowery is a Gospel preacher in the Church of Christ. Presently he serves as full time evangelist for the Pittsburg Church of Christ. A native of Southeast Oklahoma, he is the author of Colloquial Sayings & Expressions (Morris Publishing, 2008)