Prawl revisited


December 17, 2003, 10:06 AM
Gun English

A recent thread mentioned the meaning of the word "prawl". The word is used so little, it's not even listed in dictionaries. I think I know the reason.

"Prawl" is used to mean a toothlike projection that keeps a grip from rotating (in one's hand). That's also what a "pawl" does. Here's my thoughts:

Some words are a bastardization of others, this appears to be one. Examples are hearing "frustrated", knowing "flustered", saying "flustrated". Or hearing "shrapnel", knowing "scrap metal", using "scrapnel".

Now some rachets, like a watch escapement, have two teeth separated by an arm that could be thought to sprawl over the gear teeth. You probably see where I'm going with this.

I'm thinking that "prawl" is a case where someone heard "pawl", knew "sprawl", used "prawl". In other words, "prawl" is not a standard word but simply a noise mistakenly made, and on rare occasions written.

'Course if enough of us make the same noise it becomes a standard word and logged as such in a dictionary. That doesn't appear to be the case here.

Be interested if someone knows different.

(who doesn't like long posts but now has one:))

If you enjoyed reading about "Prawl revisited" here in archive, you'll LOVE our community. Come join today for the full version!
December 17, 2003, 10:35 AM
I think pawl is the correct term and prawl would be the one that comedian Norm Crosby, IIRC, would use. :D

Mike Irwin
December 17, 2003, 12:28 PM

The definition for a pawl is a bit different from what you've indicated...

A prawl is fixed -- it doesn't move, it only prevents movement or acts as a barrier.

A pawl, on the other hand, does move.

From American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language:

Pawl -- A hinged or pivoted device adapted to fit into a notch of a ratchet wheel to impart forward motion or prevent backward motion.

You do raise some interesting possibilities, one that I think can only be answered by an unabridged Oxford English Dictionary. I've just e-mailed a friend to see if it's in his.

I've also got a possible counter reference as to the origin of the word...

A Google search reveals that Prawl is a not common, but also no uncommon last name. I'm wondering if it could have been named after someone who worked in a firearms factory...

December 17, 2003, 12:46 PM
And this is gun-related *how*?


-Justin (whose finger is hovering over the lock button.)

Mike Irwin
December 17, 2003, 12:56 PM
"And this is gun related *how*?"


Let's see.

The term Prawl has been used in years past to describe the frame knuckle behind the hammer on Smith & Wesson revolvers.

The New Model No. 3 has a prawl, the Schofield and Old Model Russians do not.

The term prawl appears in the glossary section of "The Standard Catalog of Smith & Wesson."

A "How much do you know about guns" quiz here a few days ago asked this very question.

The origins of this word as it relates to firearms are apparently somewhat shrouded in mystery, as I just heard back from a friend that Prawl doesn't even appear in the OED.

The original poster was trying to float some theories on the origin of the word prawl as it relates to firearms.

Gun related, I do believe.

December 17, 2003, 01:05 PM
was hovering somewhere over the "right back at ya, Moderator!" button. :D

December 17, 2003, 01:36 PM
And Mike Irwin's in like Emeril:

BAM! Here's the answer! :D

Learn something new every day.

December 17, 2003, 02:31 PM
Gee Justin and I even used the word "Gun" in the beginning of the thread.;):)

Thanks, Mike.
Without more information, I'm not sure if I'll be using "prawl" much in the future - or at least no more than I've used it in the past.:)


December 17, 2003, 02:41 PM
I just call it "saw handle" and be done with it. Who needs a new word. :uhoh:

Mike Irwin
December 17, 2003, 03:15 PM
It's a word that's older than you or me...

December 17, 2003, 03:22 PM
Another trigger-happy moderator thwarted. Good job, Mike Irwin. :D

I never thought about "pawl" & "prawl" being used interchangably. I'd always thought that the "pawl" was part of the cylinder-rotation mechanism on a SAA--usually the part that needed replacing most on a used SAA. And I always thought the hump on a revolver that kept your hand from riding up was called a "hump"....

Learn something new here everyday...


December 17, 2003, 03:23 PM
1. Naut. Each of the short stout bars made to engage with the whelps, and prevent a capstan, windlass, or winch from recoiling.
In a capstan the pawls are now usually attached to a part of the barrel called the pawl-head, and engage with the whelps in a pawl-rim attached to the floor or platform on which the capstan works; in a windlass, etc. (formerly also in capstans) the pawl-rim forms part of the barrel, and the pawls are attached to the separate pawl-bitt or -post.

1626 Capt. Smith Accid. Yng. Seamen 13 The Capsterne, the pawle, the whelps. 1627 I Seaman's Gram. ii. 8 The Paul is a short piece of iron made fast to the Deck, resting upon the whelps to keepe the Capstaine from recoiling. 1704 J. Harris Lex. Techn. I. s.v., They say, Heave a Pawle! That is, Heave a little more for the Pawle to get hold of the Whelps: And this they call Pawling the Capstan. 1776 Phil. Trans. LX. 88 The palls or stops+of the windlass. 1840 R. H. Dana Bef. Mast xxiv, By the force of twenty strong arms, the windlass came slowly round, pawl after pawl. 1853 Kane Grinnell Exp. xi. (1856) 83 ‘All hands’ walking round with the capstan-bars to the click of its iron pauls. 1886 J. M. Caulfeild Seamanship Notes 3 Parts of the Capstan. Drum head,+pauls, paul rim, paul stops, paul beds, whelps.

2. A bar pivoted at one end to a support, and engaging at the other with the teeth of a ratchet-wheel or ratchet-bar, so as to hold it in a required position; a lever with a catch for the teeth of a wheel or bar.

1729 Desaguliers in Phil. Trans. XXXVI. 197 Such a Contrivance, that the Pall or Lever+does so communicate with the Catch, that+the Catch always takes. 1792 Trans. Soc. Arts (ed. 2) III. 159 A pall or stop, which prevents the crane running back. c1865 Letheby in Circ. Sc. I. 137/1 The latter carries a double paul, which locks into the cogs. 1884 C. G. W. Lock Workshop Receipts Ser. iii. 80/2 A ratchet and pawl keeps the plates in position.

3. Comb., as pawl-bitt, -post (Naut.), a strong vertical post in which the pawls of a windlass are fixed; pawl-head (Naut.), the part of the capstan to which the pawls are attached: see sense 1; pawl-press, a press used in bookbinding, having ratchet-wheels and pawls (Knight Dict. Mech. 1875); pawl-rim (Naut.), a notched cast-iron ring for the pawls to catch in: see sense 1; pawl-stone, a stone placed at the base of a pillar, wall, or fence, to protect it from damage by wheels.
1867 Smyth Sailor's Word-bk., *Paul bitt+Paul rim. 1874 Thearle Naval Archit. 109 Mast and pall bitt beams, and beams under the heel of bowsprit,+must not be less in size than the midship beam.

1897 Kipling Capt. Cour. 80 Under the yellow glare of the lamp on the *pawl-post.

c1860 H. Stuart Seaman's Catech. 54 Parts of a Capstan. The bed, *paul rim,+drum-head, palls and bars.

1844 H. Stephens Bk. Farm I. 151 A *pawl-stone should be placed on each side of every pillar.

That's the OED for Pawl (complete with citations!). Mike, you're right. Prawl does not appear.

December 17, 2003, 03:27 PM
As Sherlock Holmes once stated, "Now that I know that, I'm going to do my best to forget it." ;)

December 17, 2003, 04:33 PM
Y'all prawl ain't know what y'alls talkin' about.

Mike Irwin
December 17, 2003, 09:26 PM
Man, I've so far struck out in ALL of my references here at home on the origin of this word.

None of my "firearms dictionaries" from the 1950s through the 1970s have any reference to it.

I can't find my master technical index for American Rifleman magazine to see what they have to say about it.

This is aggravating.

I KNOW they don't mean those big shrimp that you get at Japanese restaurants...

Mal H
December 17, 2003, 09:38 PM
This is the only reference I could find that fits a firearm usage: (See #2.)

Prawl is not in the OED.

December 17, 2003, 10:30 PM
Webster's New Universal Unabridged Deluxe 2nd Edition (1983) does not contain the word "prawl."

Internet search turns up lots of people and places named "Prawl." Also lots of people clearly using the word "prawl" when they mean "pawl."

Lancel may have nailed it...

December 17, 2003, 11:12 PM
I think Mute has the matter sewed up!:D

December 17, 2003, 11:33 PM
I suggest we retire the (non)word, "prawl".

"Saw handle", "bump", "protuberance" or "step" might work, but I think I'll use "hump". (Not to be confused with the action of a friendly dog.:D)


December 17, 2003, 11:53 PM
I suggest we retire the (non)word, "prawl".


How about a poll referencing this thread? You know, "All in favor click on this selection..." ;)

Mike Irwin
December 18, 2003, 12:40 AM
Well, I'm trying to find his e-mail (which I have somewhere) but I'm going to ask this question, and send a link, to Rick Nahaus and/or Jim Supica. If anyone knows, they'll probably know how the word prawl came to be used to describe this feature.

If that fails, I'll go to American Rifleman's research staff.

Mike Irwin
December 18, 2003, 12:48 AM

I MAY be on to something here...

According to Supica & Nahaus, it would appear that the first S&W guns with a prawl were the Second Model (aka Old Model) Russians. I was wrong in my statement above, the Old Model Russians have it, the "Old Old" Model, or First Model, Russians do not have a Prawl.

This feature, then, likely would have been added at the request of the Russians. It could be that the word prawl MIGHT be a bastardization or derivation of a Russian word.

It's interesting to note that within a few years of the addition of the prawl to the Russian Models, most S&W handguns were sporting the knuckle.

I think this is worth looking in to.

December 18, 2003, 01:02 AM
How about a poll
Interesting idea. Let's see what other research turns up. If Mike Irwin finds out it really is a word, that would trump the poll.

Mike, I checked for German and Latin roots but didn't think of Russian; that's a possibility.

In any case, I'm going to be offline for a couple weeks after I finish packing and loading up tomorrow.

Anyone is free to start a prawl poll in my absence.:)


Mike Irwin
December 18, 2003, 01:16 AM
Just spent some time with Roy Jinks...

His book, that is...

OK, on page 73...

"By the fall of 1871, the Russians had initiated all of the changes they had desired in the original model. The handgun was in full production and being inspected by Captain Ordinetz [aid to General Gorlof, the Russian rep. in America]. He was not totally pleased with the design of the handgun and requested that the factory experiment with various grip shapes. The reason for this request was that Ordinetz felt that the recoil from firing would force the barrel upward, displacing the grip from tis proper position in a soldier's hand...

"A second experimental model was manufactured which had a knuckle, or raised metal area on the back strap of the pistol, to just fit above the webbed area between the thumb and forefinger..."

As far as I can tell, Jinks never uses the word prawl.

However, in one of the picture captions on page 74, we have "S&W Model 3 Russian First Model with square-butt saw handle designed at the request of the Russians in 1871."

Jinks also makes reference to the saw handle on 75.

I'm REALLY thinking that prawl was an Americanized version of a Russian word.

December 18, 2003, 03:43 AM
I'm REALLY thinking that prawl was an Americanized version of a Russian word.
Here's a thought...

Why doesn't someone ask Oleg?
I think he might have a slight grasp of the language.

Mike Irwin
December 18, 2003, 10:40 AM
Because who knows what the original word was, if that was truly the case?

I looked up the Russian words for knuckle, handle, and a few others. As far as I can tell (my Russian is quite rusty), none of them sound even remotely close.

I also just got a message back from Jim Supica, who I believe did the lion's share of the work on the breaktop revolvers in "Standard Catalog."

He's got no clue what the origin of the word might be.

On to Rick Nahaus.

Greg L
December 18, 2003, 11:16 AM
Man I love the internet. Where else could you get enough people interested in such minutiae together to have a coherent discussion about such an esoteric thing (not being sarcastic, I'm enjoying learning about something I'll probably never use).


December 19, 2003, 12:58 AM
Ok, I spent quite a little bit of time searching the net and found around 1500 uses of the word "prawl".

Here is the pith of the search results.

I saw prawl used in place of:

prowl (esp "on the prawl" sic)
pawl (partner to the ratchet wheel--this is quite common, bolstering Lancel's theory)
prawn (large shrimp like animal--simple typo)
sprawl (another simple typo)
proper name (surname)

a few unknown
Absolutely NO clue what the writer means with this use.
Window crank perhaps--I think he means pawl.
Suspect this is supposed to read "trawl net"

BUT, now we're getting to something interesting

place name (particularly "Prawl Point" in the UK)

There is a place in Britain (Devonshire) called "Prawl Point". This got me to thinking. I found three uses of the word "prawl" referring to the top of the backstrap in a revolver. These were ALL by British sources or were referring to British revolvers. It seems possible that this usage arose from the likeness of the shape of the grip to the shape of this geographical feature. The point is probably named for a person. Older maps show it labeled "Prawle Point". If you look at the map link above, you can see that the river/coastline roughly forms a revolver grip on its back (the barrel would be pointed northeast--if there was a barrel) with Prawl Point making a pretty good representation of what "prawl" is supposed to mean to the gun world.

Here are the only three references to "prawl" as part of a revolver grip that I found. One is describing a Webley revolver, the other two are in gun descriptions by a single British Auction house, Bonham & Butterfields.

A fourth was referenced by the search engine but the page was gone. It appeared to be a quote from the first of the three above.

So, I think that there are two possible origins.

1. Misuse and improper spelling of the word "pawl."
2. A coined word referencing a likeness of the grip protrusion to a geographical feature.

Either way, I'm still of the opinion that "prawl" needs to be scrapped since it is not clear how it arose, if it is a true word, and since, at best, it is so obscure as to be useless in terms of communicating the desired information.

Mal H
December 19, 2003, 09:51 AM
By George, I think he's got it! The land feature idea makes the most sense so far. The only reference I found (link above) was for the protrusion on a Webley grip. The puzzling thing though is that the word isn't in the Oxford English Dictionary - the be all and end all of the English language. You would think they would include the word if it has been around for centuries. Therefore I agree that it is a non-word, used very obscurely and shouldn't be used at all.

Mike Irwin
December 19, 2003, 10:25 AM

It's time to revive it and make it common usage.

December 19, 2003, 10:40 AM
It's time to revive it and make it common usageNote to a gunsmith: Could you please stipple my prawl?

Mike Irwin
December 19, 2003, 10:52 AM
You say that and you're likely to get a framzit upside your whatzit!

December 19, 2003, 10:32 PM
A word that must be defined each time it is used is of little value...

I have emailed Bonhams & Butterfields to see if the person who wrote the descriptions in the links above knows anything about the word.

If you enjoyed reading about "Prawl revisited" here in archive, you'll LOVE our community. Come join today for the full version!