a smoothbore gun for firing small shots to kill birds and small quadrupeds, though often used with buckshot to kill larger animals.
Football. an offensive formation, designed primarily for passing situations, in which the backfield is spread out with the quarterback positioned a few yards behind the center and the other backs, as potential pass receivers, positioned as slotbacks or flankers.


verb (used with object), shot·gunned, shot·gun·ning.

to fire a shotgun at.


    ride shotgun,
    1. (formerly) to ride atop a stagecoach as a shotgun-bearing guard.
    2. to protect or keep a watchful eye on something: riding shotgun over the nation's economy.

Origin of shotgun

An Americanism dating back to 1770–80; shot1 + gun1 Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2019

Examples from the Web for shotgun

Contemporary Examples of shotgun

Historical Examples of shotgun

  • One of them had a shotgun and others were armed with forks and rakes.

    Louisiana Lou

    William West Winter

  • The men backed away, the farmer let the shotgun drop to the ground.

    Louisiana Lou

    William West Winter

  • A feather-duster seemed a more fitting weapon than a shotgun.

    Fair Harbor

    Joseph Crosby Lincoln

  • It's for this shotgun speshulist to give the route agents an argyooment.

    Faro Nell and Her Friends

    Alfred Henry Lewis

  • He left his shotgun where it had fallen; the distance was too great for it.

    When the West Was Young

    Frederick R. Bechdolt

British Dictionary definitions for shotgun



  1. a shoulder firearm with unrifled bore designed for the discharge of small shot at short range and used mainly for hunting small game
  2. (as modifier)shotgun fire
American football an offensive formation in which the quarterback lines up for a snap unusually far behind the line of scrimmage


mainly US involving coercion or duressa shotgun merger
mainly US involving or relying on speculative suggestions, etca shotgun therapy

verb -guns, -gunning or -gunned

(tr) US to shoot or threaten with or as if with a shotgun
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012

Word Origin and History for shotgun

1821, American English, from shot (n.) in the sense of "lead in small pellets" (1770) + gun (n.). As distinguished from a rifle, which fires bullets. Shotgun wedding first attested 1903, American English.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper

Idioms and Phrases with shotgun


In addition to the idiom beginning with shotgun

, also see

  • ride shotgun


The American Heritage® Idioms Dictionary Copyright © 2002, 2001, 1995 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company.