I’ve been in grad school at NC State for almost 4 straight years now. Ever since I’ve arrived in North Carolina, I’ve thought that the use of the word “sharp shooter” to describe a tile spade (what I’ve always refferred to as a spade; see picture on right) has been kind of weird. I never made the connection to it’s regional “sharp shooter” name until yesterday. While I was TA’ing a soil classification class yesterday, the professor for the class, David Lindbo, finally explained to me why people in North Carolina, specifically soil scientists in NC, call it a sharp shooter.
A sharp shooter is an accurate rifleman, i.e. a sniper. When walking, a rifleman sometimes carries his or her rifle on their shoulder with one hand holding it in place. Soil scientists hold their spades the same way when they’re not using it, or are walking to where they plan to sample soil, thus their spade is their rifle/sharp shooter, hence the name. See the poster (left) to see the two ladies in red carrying a rake and garden hoe in the same manner.
This may not seem like that big of a deal to most of you, but I’m obsessed with finding meaning behind the origin of certain words and their uses. It’s been bugging me for 4 years, and now I know.
Now I’m curious if this is just a regional thing, or a soil scientist thing that is nationwide, or worldwide. If you do or don’t use the term “sharp shooter” in reference to a tile spade, please say so in the comments section, and where you’re from.