What Is Point Blank Range?

istock.com/RonBailey
istock.com/RonBailey

Probably not what you think. In action movies, TV cop shows and even the evening news, point blank is almost always used to describe a gunshot fired from an extremely close range that’s not quite close enough to be a contact shot (where the muzzle is actually touching the body).

Among ballistics experts and firearms enthusiasts, though, the definition is a little different.

Point blank is the range at which a given weapon/ammunition combination can be fired at the center or vital area of a given target and hit it without the shooter having to adjust the elevation of the weapon to account for the effect of gravity on the projectile’s trajectory.

As soon as a projectile weapon - whether a gun, bow and arrow or cannon - is fired, gravity causes the projectile (bullet, arrow, cannonball) to start dropping immediately. Within point blank range, this drop is insignificant and imperceptible. Any more distance between the shooter and the target, though, and the drop has to be adjusted for, usually by aiming above the target. Point blank range will differ depending on the weapon type, the ammunition being used and the target being shot.

The origin of the phrase is a little murky. Two suggestions that consistently pop up: One is that it was coined in France during the Late Middle Ages and is derived from the verb point and blanc, the French word for “white,” and referred to the distance at which a French archer could point the arrow directly at the center of a practice target - which was usually white - and hit it without adjusting for the arrow’s drop. The other explanation is that it comes not from the era’s archers, but cannoneers, and refers to the position of the plumb-line on a gunner’s quadrant (an early aid in aiming) when a cannon was horizontal: the unmarked zero, or “point blank.”

Friday’s Best Amazon Deals Include Digital Projectors, Ugly Christmas Sweaters, and Speakers

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Amazon
As a recurring feature, our team combs the web and shares some amazing Amazon deals we’ve turned up. Here’s what caught our eye today, December 4. Mental Floss has affiliate relationships with certain retailers, including Amazon, and may receive a small percentage of any sale. But we only get commission on items you buy and don’t return, so we’re only happy if you’re happy. Good luck deal hunting!

What Are Sugar Plums?

Marten Bjork, Unsplash
Marten Bjork, Unsplash

Thanks to The Nutcracker and "'Twas the Night Before Christmas," sugar plums are a symbol of the holidays. But what are sugar plums, exactly? Like figgy pudding and yuletide, the phrase has become something people say (or sing) at Christmastime without knowing the original meaning. Before it was the subject of fairy dances and storybook dreams, a sugar plum was either a fruitless candy or a not-so-sweet euphemism.

According to The Atlantic, the sugar plums English-speakers ate from the 17th to the 19th century contained mostly sugar and no plums. They were made by pouring liquid sugar over a seed (usually a cardamom or caraway seed) or almond, allowing it to harden, and repeating the process. This candy-making technique was called panning, and it created layers of hard sugar shells. The final product was roughly the size and shape of a plum, which is how it came to be associated with the real fruit.

Before the days of candy factories, these confections could take several days to make. Their labor-intensive production made them a luxury good reserved for special occasions. This may explain how sugar plums got linked to the holidays, and why they were special enough to dance through children's heads on Christmas Eve.

The indulgent treat also became a synonym for anything desirable. This second meaning had taken on darker connotations by the 17th century. A 1608 definition from the Oxford English Dictionary describes a sugar plum as “something very pleasing or agreeable, esp. when given as a sop or bribe.” Having a "mouthful of sugar plums" wasn't necessarily a good thing, either. It meant you said sweet words that may have been insincere.

As true sugar plums have fallen out of fashion, demand for Christmas candy resembling the actual fruit has risen. You can now buy fancy candied plums and plum-flavored gummy candies for the holidays, but if you want something closer to the classic sugar plum, a Jordan almond is the more authentic choice.