Origins of the Phrase 'Lock, Stock, and Barrel'

"Horse, foot, and artillery" is an obsolete variation of the English idiom "lock, stock, and barrel," which should give you a clue about the origin.

Samantha Enslen, Writing for
2-minute read

a dumped suitcase to illustrate unpacking lock, stock, and barrel at the airport

Have you ever talked about doing something “lock, stock, and barrel”?

If so, you meant you were doing something in its entirety. 

You might have said you were cleaning everything out of your closet—lock, stock, and barrel. Or that you had to empty everything out of your bag—lock, stock, and barrel—when you went through airport security.

You may have used this idiom for years without knowing its origin. And you might be surprised to know that the three words in this phrase refer to the three parts of a gun.

Picture an old-fashioned musket—the kind used in the American revolution.

  • The lock is the firing mechanism. That’s the part of the gun where a match or a spark was used to ignite gunpowder. The flash of gunpowder would ignite the main charge in the gun, which would propel a musket-ball forward.
  • The stock is the thick wooden end of a gun. Picture a minuteman nestling the butt of his musket into the crook of his shoulder. That part’s the stock.
  • Finally, the barrel is the long, cylindrical part of the gun. That’s the tube down which a bullet travels. 

The first known use of this term in a metaphoric sense is in a letter written by Sir Walter Scott in 1817. In describing a broken fountain he wanted to put in his garden, he wrote that “Like the Highlandman’s gun, she wants stock, lock, and barrel, to put her into repair.” In other words, nearly every part of it needed to be fixed.

A variation of this phrase that’s now obsolete is “horse, foot, and artillery.” These items referred to the components of an army. The “horse” is the cavalry; the “foot” is the soldiers; and the “artillery” is the weaponry, be it bows, catapults, or howitzers and rockets.

In one of the Anne of Green Gables books, Anne is described as peppering her teacher with impossible questions. “Anne routed her horse, foot, and artillery,” the narrator writes. In other words, Anne destroyed her entirely, depleting every ounce of self-possession she had.

So, that’s your tidbit for today. “Lock, stock, and barrel” refers to the three parts of a gun, and the expression means “the entire thing.”

That segment was written by Samantha Enslen who runs Dragonfly Editorial. You can find her at dragonflyeditorial.com or on Twitter as @DragonflyEdit.


Allen, Robert. Allen’s Dictionary of English Phrases. Lock, stock, and barrel. Penguin, 2008.

Ammer, Christine. Lock, stock, and barrel. American Heritage Dictionary of Idioms, 2nd ed. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2013. 

Barrere, Albert, and Charles Leland. Lock, stock, and barrel. A Dictionary of Slang, Jargon & Cant. London, George Bell & Sons, 1897.

Encyclopedia Britannica, online edition. Flintlock, matchlock, percussion lock (subscription required, accessed November 10, 2017).

Lockhart, John G. Memoirs of the Life of Sir Walter Scott: In Three Volumes, Volume 2. Baudry’s European Library, 1837.

Montgomery, L. M. Chronicles of Avonlea. L.C. Page & Company, 1912

Oxford English Dictionary, online edition. Oxford University Press. Lock (subscription required, accessed November 10, 2017).

Westwood, Alison. The Little Book of Cliches: From Everyday Idioms to Shakespearean Sayings. Canary Press eBooks Limited, 2011.

Image courtesy of Shutterstock.

About the Author

Samantha Enslen, Writing for Grammar Girl

Samantha Enslen is an award-winning writer who has worked in publishing for more than 20 years. She runs Dragonfly Editorial, an agency that provides copywriting, editing, and design for scientific, medical, technical, and corporate materials. Sam is the vice president of ACES, The Society for Editing, and is the managing editor of Tracking Changes, ACES' quarterly journal.