from The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, 4th Edition

  • n. Slang One who carries or sets explosives.

from Wiktionary, Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License

  • n. An explosives expert. A person who sets explosives.
  • n. The persons employed to carry gun powder from the ship's magazine to the gun deck during a battle; in the 18th century Royal British and U. S. Navies, this task (also carrying water) during battles became a permanent nickname for the ship's cabin boys and apprentice seamen.
  • n. A skier or snowboarder who avidly seeks out the “powder” (light, dry, fluffy snow).

from the GNU version of the Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • n. a boy formerly employed on war vessels to carry powder; a powder boy.

from The Century Dictionary and Cyclopedia

  • n. A boy employed on ships to carry powder from the magazine to the guns.

from WordNet 3.0 Copyright 2006 by Princeton University. All rights reserved.

  • n. someone who carries explosives (as from the magazine to the guns on board a warship)


Sorry, no etymologies found.


  • Jesse Edwards: An eleven-year-old powder monkey on the brig Lawrence during the 1813 Battle of Lake Erie.

    City of Glory


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  • US Navy Image ca 1864:

    July 14, 2013

  • Originally, and chiefly nautical, a boy employed to carry gunpowder from the powder magazine to the guns, esp. on board a warship. Also figurative. Now historical.
    1774 D. HENRY Hist. Acct. Voy. Eng. Navigators II. 406 "One of the lads, called powder-monkies, being heedless, a cartridge that he was carrying blew up in his hands."
    1798 LADY HAMILTON Letter to Admiral Nelson, 8 Sept., "I would have been rather an English powder-monkey or a swab in that great victory than an emperor out of it."

    February 14, 2007