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Battlefield Colloquialisms of World War I
Contact Us Please contact us via eBay messages if you have any questions and our Customer Service team will be happy to assist you with any queries. It spawned hundreds of new words and popularized scores of old ones. Many of them survive today -- there are "cooties," "camouflage," "scrounge" and "dud," for example -- but many have lost their once-widely recognized associations with the war that was hoped would "end war.
Total war, as the world twice found out in the past century, is a turbulent time. It is for language, too. As new concerns, new methods, new technologies and new experiences multiply, vocabulary by necessity tries to keep up. Jonathan Lighter. Obscure old words can get a new lease on life.
Some words prominent in have pretty much fallen from use. Others remain as well-known as the war's idealistic slogans, like H. Wells' call for "a war to end wars" and Woodrow Wilson's to make the world "safe for democracy. As a multilingual war, it promptly enriched the English language with terms of international origin.
The Legends and Traditions of the Great War: Words and Expression Popularized,
Air reconnaissance made military and naval "camouflage," another French word, a necessity. The same might be said of the French 75 cocktail , named for the war's most effective artillery piece. And historians writing in English still use the Gallic "poilu" for a French combat soldier and "Boches" for the Germans. Older terms and nicknames sometimes gained new popularity that guaranteed they'd remain in English long after soldiers returned home.
George M. Cohan's smash hit "Over There" was the catchiest American patriotic song ever, and when he wrote that "The Yanks are coming," he followed the British, not the American, use of the Civil War term to encompass all Americans, north and south of the Mason-Dixon Line. Marine, whose 19th-century uniform had featured a high leather collar that sailors ridiculed. Opinion: How a century-old war affects you. More Videos Three unexpected things from WWI A Wisconsin newspaper claimed in that the Germans thought American Marines fought like Teufelhunden, or "devil dogs"; the supposedly German word sounds ersatz, but the English version is still heard in the Corps.
Sailors were "gobs"; fliers were "birdmen"; pals were "buddies": all pre-war, all truly mainstream for the first time in The everyday life of those soldiers spawned many words and expressions. When kids talk of "cooties," they don't realize what everyone knew by It was a new term for lice , which burrowed into the clothes of any and all who served on the front lines.
ORCHESTRATING THE ATTACK
From the British came the expressions "to scrounge" to search for and, if necessary, pilfer , "cushy" enviably comfortable and "fed up" disgusted with it all , three salient soldier concepts in any war. Trench warfare became a sinister science, as front-line troops of every army hunkered down for hundreds of miles in conditions of appalling filth and danger.
Playwright George Bernard Shaw, an opponent of the war, popularized the once-uncommon phrase "cannon fodder," which suggested that soldiers of all nations had been impersonally requisitioned to feed the guns or duped into enlisting by interchangeably imperialist rulers. To name what lay between the entrenched armies, modern English enlisted a phrase from the Middle Ages: "no-man's land.
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Before World War I, a "dud" was anything or anybody unsatisfactory, but by the time the conflict ended, "dud" referred chiefly to an unexploded shell or bomb, as it does to this day. The British began speaking of defensive "foxholes," dug not by foxes but by soldiers on the battlefield, a word that now may seem as old as shooting wars themselves. The adjustment of a rifle's battle-sight was "zeroing in," a metaphor today's English can't do without.
Then there's "D-Day": the very first was September 26, , the starting date of the war-ending Allied offensive in the Argonne Forest. Familiar now as an advertising platform, the helium-filled "blimp" was invented for naval observation in The British came up with the armored "tank" and named it arbitrarily to keep the weapon secret before its surprise appearance in the Battle of the Somme in The threat of "chemical warfare" and "chemical weapons" had been discussed in the press, but their actual use by Germany in , first in Poland and then in Belgium, raised the war's quotient of barbarism.
The Allies quickly followed suit. The idea of bomb-laden squadrons of Zeppelins over London may seem like something from Victorian science fiction, and it was novelist H. Wells author of "War of the Worlds" who invented the most ominous phrase of all. In , he imagined a device that might appear within a generation, whose destructive power would change everything forever.
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