a warning shot across the bows
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warning shot across the bow(s)
A display of strength or aggression meant to serve as a warning to others. It refers to a warning shot from a ship, and can take the form of words or actions. Her sharp retort was a warning shot across the bow, letting her boyfriend know that she would not tolerate his bad attitude. The president is planning a military exercise along the border as a warning shot across the bows of her neighbors to the east.
a warning shot across the bowsa statement or gesture intended to frighten someone into changing their course of action.
Literally, a shot fired in front of the bows of a ship is one which is not intended to hit it but to make it stop or alter course.