T-learning # Idiom
Speak Like a Native

a loose cannon

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Choose the correct definition a, b or c.

a) a person who is unstable

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b) a person who is unpredictable

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A loose cannon is a person who is unpredictable and uncontrollable. They do what they want and nobody knows what they are going to do or say, and nobody can stop them. The person is usually a danger to those around them due to their actions.

The expression is said to come from cannons fixed to the side of sailing ships. If the cannon were to become detached, it would most likely cause injury to the crew of the ship. The expression was reportedly first used in the early twentieth century.

French translation

un électron libre, un danger public

How NOT to translate : *un canon branlant


Examples in context

‘Alexander Armstrong: ‘I don’t need to play Bond now’

Alexander Armstrong is excited. We suspect it’s probably a default setting anyway. Holding court in a hotel function room in central London, the 45- year-old comic is immediately welcoming, embodying the effortless warmth that makes him such a perfect fit for show-hosting gigs like Have I Got News For You and Pointless.

But today, his good cheer is particularly pronounced. His dream gig has landed in his lap at last.

Being chosen to be the verbal embodiment of Britain’s favourite rodent secret agent is a true honour. In 2001, Danger Mouse was voted the nation’s third-favourite children’s TV show of all time in a Channel 4 poll.

“‘It was always a loose cannon. It would barrel off in whatever direction it wanted. Part of its genius was its anarchy really – it’s barking mad in places. And adults love all that so children pick up on it too.”’

The Telegraph, 28 September 2015


‘Colin Graves is a loose cannon already as incoming ECB chairman drops the ball on Kevin Pietersen and Test series

It all started on March 1 when he gave an interview to Garry Richardson of the BBC, who is known for his persistence and admirable success in coaxing ear-catching sound bites from interviewees.

So when Graves said that Pietersen — exiled for valid reasons after the last Ashes debacle before producing a nasty autobiography that only supported the ECB’s decision — had to be playing county cricket to earn an England recall, it was put down to Yorkshire straight-talking.’

The Daily Mail, 2 April 2015


Everyday usage

I’m having Linda over for dinner tomorrow night. Make sure your mother is out, as Linda can be a bit of a loose cannon, and might offend her.

We can’t trust him anymore, he’s too much of a loose cannon, and we must consider the jeopardy of the company.

c) a person who is insane

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