Thursday, March 19, 2015

The case for calling them magazines

I do not mean to nitpick, but improvement could be seen,
If we could bring ourselves to say exactly what we mean.
- Jeff Cooper
Is this a clip or a magazine?

Magazine describes the form and function of this device, and clip is the name that the manufacturer has chosen to give it. Either term could be used and would usually be understood - but which term should be used?

This is a debate which pops up every once in a while on r/Nerf, and this is a contentious and surprisingly divisive issue. Every time this debate has occurred, my opinion has shifted a little. Specifically, it's shifted from
"Who cares?" to "Magazine. It's a magazine, dangit!".

Here's why. 


Let's start by defining some terms. Magazines and clips both hold rounds in bulk, but they are not the same thing.

Magazines, by definition, contain some mechanism which moves the rounds into place for extraction - typically, a sliding follower which pushes rounds into place and/or a rotating drum which does the same, which is driven by a spring. Magazines are used for loading rounds and not for long-term storage, as conventional wisdom has it that storing a magazine loaded weakens the spring and makes it feed less reliably.

Clips contain no mechanism for moving rounds into place, and as such are generally suitable for long-term storage of rounds (the exception being clips such as those used in the Magstrike and Powerstrike, which compress the foam of darts stored in them for too long). Some blasters, such as the aforementioned Magstrike and Powerstrike, and notably many BoomCo blasters, fire directly from clips. They do so by moving the clip to sequentially move each round into position. Charger clips are intended for loading rounds into magazines. While Hasbro has never produced charger clips, there are homemade devices which do this with Nerf darts. There is also the interesting case of en bloc clips, as used in the M1 Garand, wherein an entire clip is loaded into a magazine, though AFAIK this mechanism has never been used with non-harmful projectiles.

Firearms magazines are often incorrectly called clips. This misnomer's origins are unknown, but one story that I've heard (and that I like) is that it traces back to early computer games such as Doom, where on-screen announcements would inform the player every time they picked up a "clip" and players assumed that this was another word for a magazine.

Languages do change over time; words fall out of usage and other words take their place, and the use of a new word is not necessarily an error. This could be counted as simply another example of that, except for the fact that the use of the word clip in reference to magazines is problematic in much the same way as calling a wheel a tire would be problematic. Using these words interchangeably ambiguates an important distinction in the best case and in the worst case causes misunderstandings.

Hasbro refers to their non-drum magazines as clips, presumably because they are catering to their customers' expectations and their primary market is kids and gifting parents. Partially as a result of this, the use of the word clip in reference to magazines has become common practice in the online Nerf community . . .


 . . . and it is something that some people actively, vigorously, defend. Those are the people that I'm arguing against here. (I take no issue with people who use the word clip simply because they don't know otherwise.) These are the main arguments that have been put forth, along with my response to them.

"It's non-firearms terminology, which disassociates Nerf from firearms. It's good PR."

Here's the problem: the word clip does not sound like non-firearms terminology. To people who don't know the distinction between a clip and a magazine, both words sound like firearms terminology. To people who who do, the use of the word clip in reference to a magazine sounds like incorrect firearms terminology.

Furthermore, Nerf as a hobby is saturated with terminology borrowed directly or indirectly from firearms: stock (as in shounder), grip, trigger, trigger guard, rail (as in attachment), magwell, breech, bolt, slide, barrel, sights, foregrip, pump-action, semi auto, full auto . . . heck, that's pretty much the entire blaster! If you want to clean up our language, then you have a lot of work to do.

There are also some things that are worth noting about the misuse of the word clip in the context of firearms. First, as it is often the case that a certain type of round will be stored in both magazines (for loading into a firearm) and in clips (for long-term storage and loading into magazines), the use of one word where the other type of storage is intended can easily create confusion. Second, this is an annoyingly persistent problem. Third, as a result, the correct usage of the word clip serves as a shibboleth which distinguishes knowledgeable firearms users from those who are (potentially dangerously) ignorant.

So: by using the word clip in reference to magazines, you not only do nothing to dissociate Nerf from firearms, but you associate it with firearms-related ignorance!

That's bad PR.

"It's just a word. What's the harm?"

I'll answer that rhetorical question with one of my own: what's the harm in bad spelling and grammar? On an individual, case-by-case basis, it's annoying but harmless. In fact, it can sometimes be helpful; it's the equivalent of waving a sign which says "Noob here!", which, in a community which is generally helpful and friendly towards noobs, is a signal to provide more information and to make less assumptions about what the poster already knows.

The misuse of the word clip becomes problematic only if it is widespread. It can cause confusion; while it is usually clear from context that a magazine is what is really meant there are also actual clip-fed blasters and homemade charger clips. It could also work to discredit the hobby as a whole; whereas a single use is a sign which says "Noob here!", widespread use is a sign which says "You are now entering dumb kid country" - which is a pity, as Nerf as a hobby is much more than the domain of dumb kids.

"What's this about discrediting the hobby? Why are you taking this so seriously?"

Simply put, Nerf is worth taking seriously. It's an indoors-friendly wallet-friendly public-places-friendly system that can be used to create games that are just as fun as airsoft or paintball - in particular, Humans vs Zombies. It is not hard to find stories of people whose lives has been improved through HvZ as it enables them to go from nerdy loners to nerdy people with friends that they made through the game.

There is a distinction to be drawn here between taking the hobby seriously, and the level of seriousness or dedication to a person's approach to the hobby. Nerf is rewarding at both a wide range of levels of dedication and a wide range of levels of seriousness. You can pick up a $20 blaster, spend two minutes unwrapping and practicing with it, and then go and have a blast playing HvZ or an office war or something of the sort. On the other hand, you could turn half of your basement into a workshop and build an arsenal and still not get bored. Likewise, you can play recklessly using whatever strikes your fancy and seems fun, or you could play in a performance-oriented well organized squad. There is no one right way to Nerf, and I am not advocating a serious/milsim approach here. What I am advocating is a basic level of regard for the hobby, which means not promoting the use of ignorant-sounding terminology.

"Dude, we are playing with kids' toys. You shouldn't be so serious."

Do you consider adhesives that resist cleaning compounds when set, saws, soldering irons, high-speed rotary tools, spray paint, organic solvents, and high-discharge battery packs (including some that can vent with flame when overcharged) to be kids' toys?

To be fair, many of us do play with kid's toys, i.e. unmodified blasters - but there are still several problems with this argument. The fact that Nerf can support goofy and completely casual gameplay does not mean that this is the only sort of gameplay that it should support (as I said before and will probably end up saying again, there is no one right way to Nerf). Even if it did, this would not mean that we must also take a goofy and completely casual approach to terminology. Even if it did, this would mean that we shouldn't care about using the technically correct term, not that we should deliberately use the wrong term.

This is the argument that pushed me from simply disliking the use of the word clip in reference to magazines, because it's sometimes ambiguous and sounds ignorant, to opposing it, because it smacks of willful ignorance.

Further more, the attitude which underlies this argument is fundamentally - and perhaps deliberately - divisive. There is a near-universal human tendency to use dialect as a way of both signalling and discerning group membership. This can help to unify people, but it can also be divisive if a group defines "us" as being distinct from some "them". It seems to me that some people want to turn the usage of the word clip into a sign of membership in a group which believes in taking a completely casual approach to Nerf, and which is at odds with more serious players. Given that casual and serious approaches - and everything in between - are all valid and can coexist, I don't see any good reason for this split.

"If you really want to nitpick terminology: Hasbro calls them clips, and a magazine is defined as a thing which holds cartridges for firearms, which darts/disks and blasters are not. So, magazine is the wrong word."

Sure, let's nitpick. I like nitpicking. Hasbro refers to 6, 10, 12, and 18 dart magazines as clips. They refer to drum magazines as drums and Vortex magazines as magazines. So, unless you mean a dart-holding non-drum specifically, clip isn't the right word either. Also, while we are being nitpicky: I'd like to point out that this argument doesn't show that the use of the term magazine is wrong, just that this use of the word isn't one that is included in all dictionaries. A word can have multiple definitions, and no dictionary can contain every definition of every word.

Nitpicking aside, I'll grant that the word magazine, in the context of Nerf, might not be any more dictionary-correct than clip. The words magazine and clip are therefore both, in their application to Nerf, analogies. The question is then which is the better analogy: should a device that holds ammunition for loading into a blaster be called after a similarly functioning device which holds ammunition for a firearm, or should it be called after a differently-functioning device whose primary purpose is long-term storage of ammunition for a firearm?

"Your elitist attitude is turning people away!"

Um . . . what? I'll just quote myself here: "I take no issue with people who use the word clip simply because they don't know otherwise . . . You can pick up a $20 blaster, spend two minutes unwrapping and practicing with it, and then go and have a blast playing HvZ or an office war . . . There is no one right way to Nerf, and I am not advocating a serious/milsim approach here. What I am advocating is a basic level of regard for the hobby, which means not promoting the use of ignorant-sounding terminology."

The most vocal advocate of not deliberately misusing the word clip in Nerf is probably Toruk. Here's a quote from him, from this thread: "If you are a newbie (or any player IRL) and you call a mag a clip or something, I honestly don't give a damn at that level. On the internet, same thing, I don't care about casual mistakes. I ignore 9/10 instances of this I see because they are casual mistakes or casual misuse that harms no one . . . Play any way you want. Use bonestock guns and lob a couple darts at the office, if you find it fun. That doesn't mean go and openly defend using the wrong terminology."

We're both saying pretty much the same thing: play as you want, but please don't promote the use of incorrect terminology because this could harm the hobby. Does this really sound elitist to you?

"I've had enough of this debate. It's clipazines until everyone stops caring!"

Generally, when there is a debate over which of n words should be used, inventing a new word does not resolve the debate. It turns it into a debate over which of n+1 words should be used. This is one of those so-called compromises that actually makes the problem worse. Besides, if the term clipazine does catch on, then it will ultimately be shortened to clip in common usage, which puts us back at the starting point.


If you were wondering about the difference between clips and magazines, or why there is such a fuss over this issue on reddit - then now you know. If you habitually refer to magazines as clips - then I'm not going to bash you for it, but please call them magazines. It's the less ambiguous and technically correct term. If you think that they should be called clips, then I disagree, and I hope that I might have persuaded you otherwise.

Also, don't forget to have fun. Image credit goes to SearingPhoenix and h3rps.


  1. "Magazines are used for loading rounds and not for long-term storage, as conventional wisdom has it that storing a magazine loaded weakens the spring and makes it feed less reliably."

    In the firearm world, magazines are known to be kept for long-term storage (3 months and longer). The spring weakens from constant compression and depression. It is recommended for law enforcement to rotate magazines every 3 months, not because of the spring but because other crud gets into the magazines and they need to be examined/cleaned.

  2. There are also stories of decades-old magazines that were stored loaded feeding just fine. This is one of those areas where conventional wisdom is sometimes (often? always?) wrong, but it's still conventional wisdom nonetheless. As to whether springs really do weaken primarily from creep or from cycling . . . well, it's complicated. It's a bit of both, but which is the most significant depends on the spring and the application.

    The same situation exists for springer blasters. Conventional wisdom has it that storing them primed is bad for the spring, as some of Hasbro's instructions advise against storing them primed and ready to fire (though this may just be because this compresses the darts' foam). Nobody really knows for sure whether this is right as this has never been tested, but this is one of those cases where the conventional wisdom is useful if and when true and harmless if and when wrong.

    1. Storing them primed does significantly weaken the spring. Both I and my friends have on multiple occasions pulled old guns out of our bins and found that they'd been left primed for months and the springs were ruined, to the point where the guns had lost a good third or more of their range. I'm always careful to de-prime everything but sometimes the people I lend my guns too aren't so careful and I don't always catch it.