Monday, October 15, 2012

Magazine or Clip?

When investigating whether or not to download a free ebook I came across an interesting review. (I can't recall the book's title.) The reviewer claimed the author used the word "clip" when he should have used "magazine," and went on to explain the difference. This "mistake" bothered the reviewer so much she couldn't enjoy the book. (Evidently the term "clip" was used quite a bit.)

When entering some edits from a couple of beta readers, I noticed I used the term "clip" twice in DEATH OF A MATADOR. Well, I didn't want to offend any readers so I thought I would do a little investigating of my own. This is what I learned.

A "clip" is a gadget that holds bullets until they can be moved into a magazine. A "magazine" holds bullets in position so they can be automatically loaded into the weapon's firing chamber. So, there is a difference.

It's a big deal to gun people!
However, my source, Wikipedia, says the terms have been used interchangeably in movies, TV, and novels for so many years that several dictionaries have altered their definition of "clip" to account for its common usage.

In other words, people who watch movies and TV would likely be okay with an author using "clip" instead of "magazine" in a novel. Most, myself included prior to this experience, don't know the difference. Or even knew there was a difference.

Several things can be learned here:
  1. Language is fluid. Words can change meaning based on their common usage.
  2. If you're an author and like to be as accurate as you can, do a little research on the words you use. I had used "macerate" in DEATH OF A MATADOR when "lacerate" was the correct word. I doubt the bull had time to marinate the matador's liver in vinegar prior to tearing it apart with his horns.
  3. If you're an author who is anal about things like "clip" and "magazine," and you're writing a review for a book that includes one or both of those terms, do some research before you let something as trivial as this dominate your review. Based on common usage, either term can be used without calling in the lawyers.
Here is are a couple of paragraphs from DEATH OF A MATADOR:
Dillard applied the finishing touches to his own uniform, in his hotel room in Turlock.
He checked the time, then checked his gun, removing the magazine to inspect it, reinserting it, flicking the safety on and off. Satisfied it would fire when he wanted it to, he placed it back in the hidden compartment in the camera bag.
Now picture the text with "clip" instead of "magazine." Does it ruin it for you? Maybe it does now that you know there is a difference!

 If you like words, consider Stan Carey's excellent blog.


  1. It bugs me a bit to see the terms used interchangeably, but considering almost no contemporary guns actually use clips, I don't get too crazy about it.

    I wrote a short story with a scene at a firing range, and I just had to break up the use of "magazine" and used "clip" when it wasn't accurate. I'm so ashamed!

    1. But now you know it was okay.

      I'm wondering, though, if this is where the term "clipped" as in "he got clipped last night" originated? Hmm...

  2. Just because a word is used incorrectly with such frequency that the general public does not know the difference, does not mean it is okay.

    If your character is a clueless idiot that frequently or intentionally misuses words, then it would be just fine for that character to misuse a term in a story. But, it that character is supposed to be an expert and have both training and experience in the field of say, firearms, then one would expect that this character would use the correct term.

    But, if Wikipedia says it's okay, then by all means.. let's interchangeably (and randomly) misuse the words; they're, there and their.. I mean, so many people do it anyhow!