I've never given any thought to the phrase parting shot - I guess I just assumed that it was a shot made right before you depart - so I was shocked to learn that it's actually a folk etymologization of the phrase Parthian shot! That term referred to a particularly difficult military tactic used by the Parthinian people of Ancient Persia wherein retreating archers on horseback would turn around on the horse and shoot behind them. This came to be a metaphor in English around the nineteenth century, and was corrupted into the modern form relatively quickly. Parthinian is the endonym for Parthia, which comes from the Old Persian root p-r-th-n, which also referred to the general region. According to Google NGrams, literary usage of parting shot peaked in 2015 and has been declining since.
9/3/2020 02:12:40 pm
I hate to disagree with a fellow Harvard linguist (though a slightly older one). But my research suggests that it’s far more likely that “parting shot” came first and “Parthian shot” came later, perhaps as a joke. Further research may be needed, as they say.
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Hello! I'm Adam Aleksic, a senior studying government and linguistics at Harvard University, where I co-founded the Harvard Undergraduate Linguistics Society. In addition to etymology, I also really enjoy trivia, politics, vexillology, geography, board games, conlanging, art history, and law.