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What Does "Call the Shots" Mean?

By Patti Kate
Updated May 23, 2024
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To call the shots is an idiomatic expression that means to be in command. This may pertain to taking control of situations at home or on the job. Some people refer to this as taking charge, being the boss, or showing authority. To be in charge often means making decisions not only for oneself, but for others involved.

Often when someone is elected to make crucial decisions for others, it can be said he will call the shots. A good example of someone who might call the shots in a household is a parent or guardian who establishes rules for his children. This is done primarily for the protection and well being of the children, and also to establish a sense of order in a household. Being an authoritative figure or to be in charge at home by calling the shots is meant to keep things running efficiently and safely. Parents rarely volunteer to let a child call the shots and make important decisions for themselves.

Many people simply enjoy taking charge in a situation and prefer to be the person who calls the shots. This may be due to the nature of his personality, as some people are more assertive than others. Often in a household with children, an older sibling calls the shots. His brothers and sisters may see this as a negative trait, and label him as being bossy.

Another example of what it means to call the shots may be seen in a patient and physician relationship. A patient who makes important decisions regarding his healthcare is calling the shots. His physician make make suggestions based on his professional knowledge and experience, but ultimately the patient may choose to call the shots when it comes to the lifestyle he chooses for himself.

At work, a supervisor often calls the shots regarding decisions or rules his subordinates must follow. When problems arise in a retail situation, a person often referred to as a team leader may implement a plan to correct the situation. In essence, calling the shots at work refers to someone of authority. He gains that authority through experience and expertise.

Some speculation exists as to the origin of the idiom calling the shots. The term may have originated in reference to someone who participates in target practice. The individual using a rifle to shoot his target can be perceived as calling the shots. Other speculation involves the game of billiards, because to the billiard player often calls his shots before hitting the ball.

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Discussion Comments
By Cageybird — On Nov 13, 2014

One time I was in the hospital and I wasn't happy with a treatment my doctor ordered. A nurse came in twice a day and made me breath into a steam-filled tube. I told my doctor I hated having to do it, and he said he couldn't help me with that. The nurses call all the shots when it came to daily patient care. I couldn't argue with that logic.

Personally, I believe the expression comes from billiards, since part of the rules are that the players need to call their shots before attempting them. Even if a ball goes into a different hole, the player is penalized for not executing his or her plan. Although, it could be argued that someone who directs a movie could be "calling all the shots" his actors have to perform.

By RocketLanch8 — On Nov 12, 2014

I remember my dad used to say "Who's calling the shots around here?" whenever we challenged one of his orders. He wasn't trying to be a totalitarian or anything, but he firmly believed he was the person in charge of the family unit and he always knew what we needed to do next. I suspect he got that way after spending time in the military.

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