The sentence goes: "But in 1973, King Zahir Shah was overthrown and five years later the guns of war exploded". Google translator says that it was the weapon which went off, but it doesn't fit the context. I'm guessing this is some kind of idiom, but I couldn't find anything like that. What does the guns of war actually mean, and why do they explode? Thank you in advance

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    Where did you find this sentence? It is no idiom that I'm aware of. The author seems to be referring to guns being fired as a metaphor for war breaking out. However, to speak of them 'exploding' sounds as though the guns themselves burst open. May 15 at 14:26
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    @KateBunting - it's in a 'Topical News Lessons' by Macmillan English. Not a terribly good choice of story, in my opinion. May 15 at 14:30
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    For plural guns, it's certainly a metaphor. It don't think it's that badly chosen, signaling a very sudden outbreak. May 15 at 19:38
  • It's actually adapted from an old Grauniad article theguardian.com/business/2005/nov/07/g2
    – James K
    May 15 at 20:52

1 Answer 1


If a gun 'explodes' it is usually destroyed and is not useful any more. I suspect the writer meant to say something like 'the guns of war sounded'.

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    Could be an implicit "exploded (into action)" so the war started, as the OP suggests. But yes, a poor choice for a lesson in English. May 15 at 15:01
  • I think in a metaphorical sense it's OK, like "He exploded with rage", but it also does kind of read as "burst apart", which makes it not a great metaphor.
    – stangdon
    May 15 at 21:49
  • It's the classic way of disabling an artillery piece - stuff some high explosive down the barrel and stand back. They can peel like bananas. May 15 at 21:54

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