Final Word

State capture – lock, stock and barrel

Lock two.jpg

During the last week or two it became clear that the so-called Zuma faction in the ANC and their friends have embarked on a final push at state capture – ‘lock, stock and barrel.’

As signs were also mounting that a fracturing ANC’s hold on political power was slipping, this push might have been an attempt to give some more firepower to their assault on the resources of the state.

My first thought, when thinking about how one could describe this final push, inspired by greed, was that they were trying to secure it all for themselves – ‘lock, stock and barrel’.

Some background

This column was inspired by a game my late friend the legendary radio personality Fanus Rautenbach and I used to play over weekends. One of us would put a word or expression on the table, so to speak.

The next step would be that we each formulated a theory or guess about the origin of the word or expression. This was followed by digging into dictionaries and other sources on the bookshelf and online.

The one closest to the correct answer could sit back to relax and gloat while the other one poured drinks or made coffee.

I still, at times, play this game in my head, imagining Fanus is around. The result of my guesswork on ‘lock, stock and barrel’ would probably have had me pour the drinks.

The picture

Possibly because of the crime stats released last week, the picture that came to my mind was of a shop being raided by a bunch of looters – cleaning it out, even taking the lock to the door and the barrels storing some of the stock, or the good wine for celebrations after a good week for sales.

I was wrong. But, in my defence, I’m not the first one to make that mistake with this figure of speech or merism for “totally everything” or the whole lot, the whole caboodle.

Some sources still claim it refers to all of a shopkeeper's possessions – the stock in trade, the items stored in barrels and the lock to the door. It might in some instances might actually be an apt description of a burglary or robbery, but it is not the origin of expression.

Ironically, the original meaning was of a rather positive nature.

The real story 

The roots of the expression go back to the 15th century and the production of some of the first individual handheld firearms, known as muskets.

They were produced from three components: the stock or wooden butt-end ('stock' is the old term for wooden butt or stump and is a generic term for a solid base); the lock or flintlock, which is the firing mechanism, resembling a door lock, and forerunner of the modern trigger; and the barrel, the metal cylindrical part mounted on the stock and through which the bullet is launched.

The individual parts were originally produced by specialised craftsmen and then had to be assembled as a musket.

Then, at some point, a craftsman or a merchant started advertising “Lock, Stock and Barrel” meaning that you could get your entire gun at one location.

First use of expression

Different sources indicate different dates/occasions at which the modern figurative use of the expression was recorded.

One places it in July 1803 in a letter that appeared in The Connecticut Sentinel, telling the story of a group of men getting drunk, celebrating “patriotism – self-interest, the cock, lock, stock and barrel”.

Another ascribes it to an 1817 letter by Sir Walter Scott, which included the line: “Like the Highlandman's gun, she wants stock, lock, and barrel, to put her into repair.”

Towards the end the 19th century the expression was well establish in various contexts and in 1891 Rudyard Kipling wrote: “The whole thing, lock, stock, and barrel, isn't worth one big yellow sea-poppy.”

Final word

As the ‘state resource grabbers’ in South Africa prove, it can also be used in the political-economic context.

by Piet Coetzer

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