call the shots


call the shots


  • to be in charge of what is happening and what should happen.
  • take the initiative in deciding how something should be done.
  • act as the authority and choose how things are supposed to be conducted.
  • when one is in power and wants to mandate other people to carry out specific tasks.
  • in situations to show a person is in command and runs the show.
  • where one is in charge and makes the final say regarding particular matters.

Example Sentences

  1. The security forces will call the shots all around during the political gatherings.
  2. Firstborn children are prone to call the shots when it comes to ordering around their siblings.
  3. The manager is undoubtedly the one to call the shots in such sensitive matters.
  4. The teacher left the class representative with the responsibility to call the shots in class.
  5. It is pretty uplifting to be in a position to call the shots.
  6. The president tried his best to give the impression of being in control, but the BBC revealed that the party president called all the shots.


The origins of the phrase “call the shots” are diverse, with supposed connections to military practices ancient and modern, billiards, hunting, and even the historical practice of floating logs down North American rivers. Additionally, there is a noteworthy association dating back to the early 1500s with the sport of curling, which originated in Scotland. In curling, the team leader, known as the “skip,” would “call” the shot for their player, specifying details such as distance, speed, and line.

In games like billiards, pool, or snooker, the player who “calls the shots” is the one who decides and announces which ball they intend to hit into a pocket. Over time, the phrase has evolved to be used more broadly in various contexts beyond sports. By the mid-20th century, “call the shots” had completely transitioned from a specific cue sports term to a metaphorical expression used to describe someone who is in control or making important decisions in any situation. 

Another theory behind the origin of the idiom suggests that in whisky making, the initial stage of distillation yields undesirable compounds that evaporate before the desired ethanol emerges. These early, potentially harmful liquids are termed “foreshots,” while the end of the distillation run produces “aftershots,” which, though not poisonous, are also unsuitable for consumption. “Calling the shots” in distillation involves the skill of discerning which portions—foreshots or aftershots—to discard, ensuring only the desirable product is retained.

Linguists are not unanimous on whether this idiom originated in America, Great Britain, or any other part of the world.

One of the earliest instances of this phrase can be found in the book “The Dividing Line: Acts of the Legislature of Massachusetts, 1913,” where it states:

“Who has the right to call the shots on industrial relations, the managers or the unions?”

This usage suggests that the phrase was already in common parlance at that time, indicating its presence in the early 20th century. However, it’s possible that it was used even earlier in spoken language or in less formal written sources.

Share your opinions1 Opinion

Didn’t it come about much earlier when military men had to be of a certain rank to decide if shots were to be or not to be. Otherwise war would be complete chaos like they are today, a little jab there. Even today the police captain calls the shots, that is, whether or not shots will take place and whether they’ll be:fatal or not. Goes way back to the invention and deployment of the gun.

‒ Gavin Rowley June 23, 2023

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