1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Cannon

CANNON (a word common to Romance languages, from the Lat. canna, a reed, tube, with the addition of the augmentative termination -on, -one), a gun or piece of ordnance. The word, first found about 1400 (there is an indenture of Henry IV. 1407 referring to “canones, seu instrumenta Anglicè gunnes vocata”), is commonly applied to any form of firearm which is fired from a carriage or fixed mounting, in contradistinction to “small-arms,” which are fired without a rest or support of any kind.[1] An exception must be made, however, in the case of machine guns (q.v.), and the word as used in modern times may be defined as follows: “a piece of ordnance mounted upon a fixed or movable carriage and firing a projectile of greater calibre than 11/2 in.” In French, however, canon is the term applied to the barrel of small arms, and also, as an alternative to mitrailleuse or mitrailleur, to machine guns, as well as to ordnance properly so-called. The Hotchkiss machine gun used in several navies is officially called “revolving cannon.” For details see Artillery, Ordnance, Machine Guns, &c. Amongst the many derived senses of the word may be mentioned “cannon curls,” in which the hair is arranged in horizontal tubular curls one above the other. For “cannon” in billiards see Billiards.

In the 16th and 17th centuries the “cannon” in England was distinctively a large piece, smaller natures of ordnance being called by various special names such as culverin, saker, falcon, demi-cannon, &c. We hear of Cromwell taking with him to Ireland (1649) “two cannon of eight inches, two cannon of seven, two demi-cannon, two twenty-four pounders,” &c.

Sir James Turner, a distinguished professional soldier contemporary with Cromwell, says: “The cannon or battering ordnance is divided by the English into Cannon Royal, Whole Cannon and Demi-Cannon. The first is likewise called the Double Cannon, she weighs 8000 pound of metal and shoots a bullet of 60, 62 or 63 pound weight. The Whole Cannon weighs 7000 pound of metal and shoots a bullet of 38, 39 or 40 pound. The Demi-Cannon weighs about 6000 pound and shoots a bullet of 28 or 30 pound. . . . These three several guns are called cannons of eight, cannons of seven and cannons of six.” The generic sense of “cannon,” in which the word is now exclusively used, is found along with the special sense above mentioned as early as 1474. A warrant of that year issued by Edward IV. of England to Richard Copcote orders him to provide “bumbardos, canones, culverynes . . . et alias canones quoscumque, ac pulveres, sulfer . . . pro eisdem canonibus necessarias.” “Artillery” and “ordnance,” however, were the more usual terms up to the time of Louis XIV. (c. 1670), about which time heavy ordnance began to be classified according to the weight of its shot, and the special sense of “cannon” disappears.

  1. The original small arms, however, are often referred to as hand cannon.