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Clip or Magazine?

The Correction
Gun people are happy to jump all over the poor novice who calls his new handgun's magazine a “clip”, but should they?

The Background
In order to explore this question we must consider a few sources. First, technical terms, as defined by Webster and other such definitive sources, are vital. Secondly, usage can change over time, so we must consider jargon of the day, to some extent. Third, manufacturers play a big role in shaping gun terms. For example, Benelli's inertia system is now simply called an "inertia-driven" or inertia-operated gun thanks to that company's marketing push. So, lets get back to the question, clip or magazine?

The Definitions
Webster defines magazine as: a supply chamber; a holder in or on a gun for cartridges to be fed into the gun chamber automatically.

Webster defines clip as: a device to hold cartridges of recharging the magazines of some rifles; a magazine from which ammunition is fed into the chamber of a firearm.

If we viewed strictly from the contact of Webster's definition, the first clause of the clip definition implies that the clip is to recharge the internal box magazine of "some" rifles. Some rifles would be the M-1903 Springfield, for example. This definition implies that a stripper clip, or clip, is different from a magazine. However, then there's the second clause that implies magazine and clip can be used interchangeably.  But is Webster the authority on gun nomenclature?

The Inevitable Johnston Deferral
NRA's fact book, which I take as the gospel, says that purists tend to use the term magazine for the spring-loaded device that most guns (modern handguns like the Glock, for example) use, and reserve the word clip to distinguish the aforementioned stripper clips that are used to reload the magazine, as well as half moon clips for revolvers. These devices that purists call clips tend to not have springs. But then the Fact Book states that not all manufacturers "adhere to this oversimplification."

" … in 1909-1910 U.S. Ordinance reports referred to the "clip" of the upcoming service pistol." This would indicate that the U.S. armed forces, at least in some capacity, called what we know as magazines "clips."

The Reasoning
For most of us, saying clip when meaning magazine is wrong--like calling a barrel of a gun its trigger. But technically, if we are to appreciate Webster, it might be more like calling the fore-end of the gun the "fore-arm" or a cartridge a round, which we accept as synonyms and not incorrect.

This interchangeable definition of clip and magazine, however, would be easier to confirm if we could find one modern manufacturer of magazines who calls them clips. If you can find one, please bring it to my attention. Then we'd have to ask ourselves, 'is the company wrong?' or, are we being overly sensitive to such a trifling issue of semantics?

The Judgment Call
Frankly, we should probably give the kid at the range who calls the magazine a clip a break, but we won't because the next thing you know he'll be calling his gun a gat and forgetting who fought whom in WWII.

Therefore, I'll take the side of the hunters and shooters before me, shunning Webster—who was a word-nerd anyway—and continue to call my Glock's 15-round magazine a magazine.

"Honey, please let me buy 100 more Magpul clips," said no respectable gun guy, ever. I'll save clip for what I ask of my hair stylist … I mean, barber.

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34 Responses to Clip or Magazine?

Ron McClellan wrote:
September 15, 2014

Marlin at minimum called their .22 magazines 'Clip magazines' until the recent packaging change. You can simply google up photos of the packages

Jay wrote:
August 03, 2013

It was explained to me this way in basic training take a paper clip and a magazine ( you know like maxim or American Hunter) the clip fits in the magazine but the magazine does not fit in the clip. sooo stripper clips are clips and magazines are magazines now lets all go into the woods sing kumbaya and make smores

Cayuga33 wrote:
July 23, 2013

If I wish to call a clip a magazine or vice versa...that is MY business! If some idiot wants to tell me different then that idiot is minding MY business.

Don Guin wrote:
July 20, 2013

When I reported tp military school in 1958 I was given an M1 Garand which was fed by a clip and only a clip. The M1 Carbine was fed by a magazine, as was the 1911 .45. Anything else was unacceptable.

bhp9 wrote:
June 26, 2013

Language is dynamic, what was true yesterday is not true today despite what Webster has to say about the matter. As long ago as 1911 U.S. military manuals were calling the feeding device of a 1911 pistol a clip not a magazine. Both terms, magazine and clip have been used interchangeably for over 100 years at least. 'Get over it' to use a colloquialism.

Gary Dewyn wrote:
May 21, 2013

I'll confess that I have used these terms incorrectly. I have used 'magazine' for permanently-mounted feed systems, and 'clip' for removable feed systems. Every gun I've ever shot had the permanent or built-in system. Most anti-gunners use clip because it is terse. It is one syllable, like 'bang.' In their minds it sounds more threatening. In their efforts to control the language they don't want to let a word that is associated with say Readers' Digest to be used in the parlance of firearms.

Ernest White wrote:
May 20, 2013

I am so use to hearing it both ways that I don't care. I call them Magazine.

richard orze wrote:
May 19, 2013

thank you, from now on i will call a clip & magazine without predudice to correctness

Itlldo wrote:
May 18, 2013

This could go round and round (npi), it's a personal thing and can go either way as both provide the same function. I use magazine when describing the storage/feeder device of cartridges (or should that be rounds) that is fixed or part of the weapon being discussed. I use clip to describe a removable storage/feeder device of said items. Magazine is fixed. Clip is removable. Simple...

Art wrote:
May 18, 2013

To add to subject of improper terms, my biggest pet peeve, is when I told that the gun was loaded with 'bullets' I've even heard so called firearm experts speak this way.

Bill Johnson wrote:
May 17, 2013

Does it matter really? Whether you call it a clip or a magazine it means the same to us non purists.

Redline wrote:
May 17, 2013

In the late 1800's rifles were made with internal magazines that could be fed with clips. In the latter part of that century, the Krag-Jorgensen used a rotary magazine that could be fed either single rounds or clips with five rounds. In the early 1900's with the introduction of the American 1903 Springfield, The German '98, and the other bolt action rifles, each had the same common feeding. Each had either a detachable box as the Enfield, or an internal magazine, but all could be fed from stripper clips(charger clips) as the late 1800's rifles. The term 'clips' was used by Soldiers of all nations to mean any stripper clip or magazines. As we know, this was to the dismay of every Marine DI, or Soldier Drill Sergeant. Going into WWII we had the Garnad which fed from a sprung clip of eight rounds. Jargon of the time used anything that fed a rifle as a clip. We can safely say this is due to the lower intelligence of most of the Soldiers or Marines who use words they really don't quite understand, especially back when the average grade equivalent was 8th grade or lower. This ignorance persists throughout the 20th century and the 21st century with no known cause except that maybe it is driven by stupidity as the ignorance is trained over and over to use the word magazine for a box magazine, and clip for a stripper clip or en bloc clip. When ignorance is taught away through education, the jargon no longer persists. When ignorance refuses to be educated away, then it becomes stupidity, which I am afraid is incurable.

Greg Russell wrote:
May 17, 2013

Nothing wrong with ensuring folks learn, and use proper terminology when discussing firearms.

Bob McDade wrote:
May 17, 2013

I never heard of a clip pouch, clip well, clip spring, clip follower, clip capacity, clip change, single or double stack clip. Mag or magazine seems to be the approptiate term.

Josh Cline wrote:
May 17, 2013

You've got to be kidding? A magazine is a part of the firearm and a clip is a throw away strip of metal meant to be discarded. Your firearm will function without the clip but not without it's magazine. Also take into consideration the legal aspect of this issue. In some states it is permissible to have a loaded clip (since it is not a part of your firearm) but having a loaded magazine is the same as having a loaded gun, since the magazine IS a part of the firearm. As an NRA certified instructor and as intelligent gun owners it is important to know the difference and to help others know and understand the difference. Nobody likes looking stupid because they didn't know because their instructor or their 'knowledgeable' friends didn't help them understand the correct term. If you want to look stupid that's one thing but is this how we as responsible gun owners should present ourselves to a sometimes critical non-shooting public? Would you like to have your friend end up in jail because he or she wasn't taught the difference? I really can't believe anyone connected with the NRA would choose not to help others and the shooting sports and do the right thing.

JB wrote:
May 17, 2013

For those of us with military backgrounds (dating back to the 60's and later), we were strictly taught that there is a difference between a clip and a magazine. A clip is a device used to insert rounds into a rifle from the top side (as you do with an M-1). A magazine is used to insert rounds into the rifle from the bottom (as you do with an M1A1 Carbine). Magazines are usually permanent devices which are reloaded, while clips may be temporary and expendable. These terms were part of standard military nomenclature and for everyone's comprehension were not to be confused or interchangeable. Any soldier who used the wrong term was immediately corrected.

Iain wrote:
May 17, 2013

Savage calls them clips, take that webster.

Dave wrote:
May 17, 2013

At one time, and maybe still, Marlin called the feeding device for their 517 rifle a 'magazine clip'. Didn't want to offend Anyone, I suppose. But maybe offended Everyone.

H Stan Boring PHC USN Ret wrote:
May 17, 2013

Good points. proper nomenclature tends to separate the knowledgeable from the novices. Using the right words avoids confusion, and can be a way to educate potential converts, done kindly and without any snide opinions about the usage of the uneducated. I've used many an M1 clip and .45 magazines. Chief Boring

Lyle wrote:
May 17, 2013

There is the very practical matter of distinguishing a magazine from a clip. 'Toss me another clip, Clem' and Clem should toss you a clip. Ask for a magazine and you should get a magazine. Several systems, like your AR-15 and your M1A use both, but the magazines are most definitely not interchangeable with the clips. If you call the magazine a clip, then what do you call the clip? Asking yourself that question is the easiest way to understand the issue. Same goes for “bullets” verses “cartridges”. You go into a store and ask for bullets, you should get bullets. You ask for cartridges, or “loaded ammo” and you should get cartridges. Again; if you’re going to use the term “bullets” to mean loaded cartridges as so many people do, then what term do you use for bullets? It’s a purely practical matter. I don’t care in the slightest bit what Webster’s says in this case. We need to be able to distinguish one item from another, and the best way to do that is to use different words for different things.

doug wrote:
May 17, 2013

a clip has NO spring... a magazine has a spring

Gregory Messa wrote:
May 17, 2013

I am sorry for your confusion of the words magazine and clip. I hear people a the shooting argue about this often. A magazine holds the cartridges inside the gun, has a follower and spring to feed them into the chamber. A clip holds cartridges together outside of the gun,for feeding it. If the magazine is removable (detachably box magazine) it is also a clip. It holds cartridges together outside of the gun. My 1911 magazine is also a clip. The magazine on my 1903 springfield is not a clip, it is not removable. The eight round clip for my M1 Garand is not a magazine it has no follower or spring, these are built into the gun. It may be a better choice of words to call a removable magazine a magazine, but it is not incorrect to call it a clip. My M14 rifle uses a magazine, and can be feed with striper clips. So I have both for the same gun. If someone says hand me a M14 clip, and both are laying there, I say which one. To call this magazine a magazine and not a clip might help eliminate confusion. I hope this helps with your confusion. If you still insist that a clip and a magazine are two different things, and can never be the same, you need to find some other language to speak than English. This is how the English language works. Greg;-)

steve comus wrote:
May 16, 2013

Allow Juliet to be your authority: 'A rose by any other name would smell as sweet.'

Orvel Johnson wrote:
May 16, 2013

The WWII Grand M1 used a clip to insert the clip full of bullets into the housing of the rifle. The bullets were inserted one by one into the chamber by the bolt. When the last round (bullet) had been fired then the clip automatically ejected making a ping sound and left the receptacle open for the insertion of the next clip. The clip merely held the ammo while the bolt action injected each round into the chamber. The Browning Automatic Rifle aka (BAR) used a spring loaded magazine that automatically fed each round into the chamber. I am very familiar with both of these rifles and the method of getting the ammunition into the chamber and ready for firing.

Fred wrote:
May 16, 2013

fwinograd@earthlink.net Back in the early 60's when I served in the Army and use my M1 Garand Rifle for daily duties we were taught, a clip was what used to load ammo in the rifle and expended itself with a load ping when you ran out of ammo. It also gave the enemy an acknowledgement of where you were and that you needed to reload. The M1 Garand Rifle was a great weapon and now serves a great rifle to hunt with. It was also Feinstein friendly.

Woodrow Weitzeil wrote:
May 16, 2013

As a Law Enforcement Officer, I have been trained to call a magazine a magazine. If we are in court and asked the question about this subject. We always tell the defense lawyers its a magazine. A clip is like you say a stripper clip, or the M1 Grand uses a clip, our a woman uses a hair clip, or there a paper clips or in some firearms there is little half moon clips that hold pins in place. Its my opinion to call them Magazines.

Dockgsp wrote:
May 16, 2013

I have been calling mags, clips, for almost 60 years and no one has ever not understood what I was talking about. Much to do about nothing I suspect.

blackfield wrote:
May 16, 2013

When I was in the Army in the early 1960s we had M1 Garand rifles that used 8-round clips. My personal distinction between a clip and a magazine is that a clip is like used in the M1 and a magazine is like used in a M1911 .45 semi-auto pistol. But if I recall correctly, we even referred to the .45 pistol's magazine as a clip; although, I'm not sure about that, its been a long time.

C K Bell wrote:
May 16, 2013

Mr Johnston and everyone else might like to take a look at the 'DOPE BAG' in the Jan 1956 American Rifleman (Pg 60) ... for a more detailed and scholarly commentary on this issue.

Joe wrote:
May 16, 2013

When I reported to Parris Island I was given an M-1 that loaded with a 'clip.' Later I received an M-14 that loaded with a 'magazine.' And then an M-16 and the magazine' was loaded with a 'stripper clip.' However, at my age, I call each either a clip or magazine, but still refer to a stripper clip as such.

Daniel Cameron wrote:
May 16, 2013

You forgot about the En Bloc clip for the M1 Garand. En Bloc and stripper clips are definitely different than the spring loaded magazine that feeds modern rifles and pistols, so I do think there is a definite difference because one works to feed the gun while it is operating while the others are more of a holder of the ammunition.

Anthony wrote:
May 16, 2013

You are incorrect. Magazines are ammunition containers which feed the ammunition into the chamber of the weapon. Clips are used to load these magazines. Period.

Rick Gillespie wrote:
May 16, 2013

Just so you know it's even more complicated now. I sell rifle parts and some street wise guys came in the other day and said, 'Oh my God, Iook at that clip' to one of his friends. He was referring to the rifle as a whole. Like kids call cars, 'Whips', now the call guns,'Clips'. Just thought you might like to know, 'Gat', is passe :-)

Ryan wrote:
May 16, 2013

I've corrected a few people about the difference between a magazine and a clip before, but I was always civil about it. You can't expect people to know something they haven't been taught and it's not as if calling a 30 round magazine a 'high capacity ammunition clip' will keep you from being President.