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From the naval tactic of firing a warning shot in front of a ship in order to force it to stop or alter its course.


shot across the bow (plural shots across the bow)

  1. (idiomatic) A warning that negative consequences will be faced if something is carried out or allowed to continue.
    • 2007, David Geltner, Norman G. Miller, Jim Clayton, & Piet Eicholtz, Commercial Real Estate Analysis and Investments, Cenage Learning, Inc. (2010), →ISBN, page 397:
      This is often used as a "shot across the bow," warning the borrower how seriously the lender views the default.
    • 2007, Jeffrey Toobin, The Nine: Inside the Secret World of the Supreme Court, Anchor Books (2008), →ISBN, page 180:
      This was a shot across the bow of the Florida justices, a warning against further activism in this case, but one with relatively little practical significance at this late date.
    • 2008, Chris Lauer, The Management Gurus: Lessons from the Best Management Books of All Time, Portfolio (2008), →ISBN, unnumbered page:
      Before punishing, place a shot across the bow — provide a clear warning to let people know exactly what negative things will happen should they continue down their current path, but don't actually administer discipline yet.