It is kind of interesting how one word can mean different things in different circumstances.  In a recent Facebook post I used the word “shots” while talking about pictures.  But one friend who saw it thought immediately about gunshots.  And that is not the end of the variety of meaning of this simple word.

To a photographer, shot means snapshot or taking a picture.

To a marksman, shot means gunshot or taking aim and pulling the trigger, or sometimes the ammunition used in a shotgun.

To a basketball player, shot means throwing the ball at the basket, either accurately or not (also hockey, golf and other sports).

To a bartender, shot means a single serving of alcohol.

To a healthcare provider, shot means a medication delivered by a hypodermic needle.

To a mechanic, it means that a machine is no longer able to work and must be repaired or replaced.

To someone trying something new, it means giving it a try.

There is some connection between a few of these, but interestingly, many have no overlap at all.  The four letter word “shot” is the same word in all cases, but the meaning is radically different, depending on the context of the word.

Now, can you imagine what confusion someone whose first language is not English might go through?  A photographer shoots his model and they imagine murder.  Two gangs shoot at each other and they imagine a bank of cameras flashing.

And, from time to time, we in the church use language that we understand, but someone who is not familiar with church traditions has no idea what is going on.  Years ago I heard a well-known TV preacher talk about how he came to use language more understandable to non-churched people.  He had invited a woman who did not even know the Bible had an Old Testament and a New Testament to church.  She showed up the next Sunday and he realized that his Bible verse heavy sermon would mean nothing to her.

I had a similar experience when a woman who had started attending brought her husband who I knew had not been exposed to much faith in his life.  I shuddered when we came to “the Lord’s prayer” and it was not printed in the bulletin.  I knew he would not have the slightest idea what was going on.  It was like we had our own secret language.

We need to be careful when we speak of faith that it not be confusing to those who need to understand it the most.  I know I don’t always do it, but I hope that anyone reading this blog, whatever their religious background, will understand what I am saying and be able to make an educated decision about its value to them.

I can imagine that someone in a line for a “shot” might be disappointed to end up with an inoculation instead of a small glass of alcohol.


About edwardsoule

The Rev. Dr. Edward A. Soule is now the pastor of Big Cove Cumberland Presbyterian Church, Brownsboro, AL. He retired as a United Methodist pastor who served 28 years as a minister in churches around the North Alabama Conference of the United Methodist Church. Before that, he was in Christian radio for 10 years and was a Baptist minister for two years. Over the years, Ed has also been a teacher in public schools, a private school principal, and taught at a Bible college. He has a B.A. from Bethel University, St. Paul, MN; a M. Div. from Bethel Theological Seminary; and a D. Min. from United Theological Seminary, Dayton, OH. Ed is now widowed. He had been married to Deborah (Mendelson) for 38 years. She was the executive director of Partnership for a Drug Free Community. He currently resides in the Hampton Cove community of Huntsville, AL, where Ed enjoys walking with their dog, Churchill, daily, running and keeping up the landscaping. "Dr. Edward" is available to speak to churches and other groups in the north Alabama/southern Tennessee area. Contact through this blog or directly at
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