Upshot

Soon, inevitably, to be a verb.

Dear WD: I was surprised recently when I was reading “The Moonstone” by Wilkie Collins, published in 1868, to come across a reference to the “upshot” of events. I always thought “upshot” was a fairly recent slang word. Where did it come from and how long has it been around? — K. Wollard, Brooklyn, NY

“Upshot” has been around quite a long time — more than four centuries, in fact. The first recorded usage of “upshot” is in 1531, and its original meaning conjures up vivid images of 16th century England. An “upshot” was the last shot in an archery competition, often the deciding shot. “Upshot” quickly came into use as a metaphor meaning the end or conclusion of a process, and in the sense of “final result” has been common since the early 19th century. Today “upshot” carries the connotation of “the bottom line,” an honest appraisal of results without illusions. Although “upshot” is not, strictly speaking, slang, its very brevity and bluntness tend to rule it out for formal usage. One rarely hears politicians announcing the “upshot” of negotiations, for instance, though we’d all welcome the sort of candor “upshot” implies.

This seems a good place to put in a plug for the book where you found “upshot.” “The Moonstone” was the first full-length detective novel in English literature and Wilkie Collins established many of the conventions of the genre in his story of a fabulous gem gone mysteriously missing. For lovers of English manor houses on fog-shrouded moors, gemstones with ancient curses, eccentric servants, willowy young English maidens given to fainting spells and afflicted with unscrupulous suitors, not to mention a band of wandering Gypsies, “The Moonstone” is a ripping good read. And, as in all good mysteries, the “upshot” of the story comes as a surprise to everyone.

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