Sunday, November 11, 2012

Remembrance Sunday: The Language Of War, Part 1

As we remember those who lost their lives in WWI, we're having a look at some of the words that made their way into the English language during that time. Just like technology, language advances significantly during war. We hope that those of you in the Commonwealth are wearing your handmade poppy!

This boy has the right idea with his poppy and wreath.

Here are some of our favourites that came about during the grimness of war. They're definitely better than the mopey poetry though!

Ace
Not the card but the title given to someone who is good at something. The term came from aviators during the war for someone who had shot down 10 planes. Though the French l'ace only counted for 5 planes. They must have lower standards...

Barrage
From the French verb barrer, to stop, the word came from tir de barrage in reference to the devastating artillery fire that would, in fact, stop anyone in their tracks.

Blimp
Nobody really knows where this word came from. Apparently it was from Type B-limp instead of Type A-rigid due to the way it is constructed. Either way, you can't have a name for something until you invent it, and a lot of things get invented during wartime.

The Hindenburg is in fact not a blimp, but an airship...
obviously it's the Type-A rigid we referred to!

Bunker
The word bunker had existed before WWI, but was reserved for use on a golf course. It acquired a new usage which referred to the underground fortifications used as shelter from bombs and other attacks.

Camouflage
It was from the word camoufler in French, which was actually a slang word used in Paris to mean hide. The Parisians have much better slang now. The navy called it "dazzle-painting" apparently, which sounds more like something drag-queens do before a show.

Chew the fat
During the war, this term was used to refer to sulky, grumbling conversations between bored soldiers, perhaps because of the cloths soaked in animal fat that they often chewed on to pass the time. In recent times however, it has come to refer to friendly idle chatter!

D-Day
Quite redundantly the D in D-Day refers to day. For military operations, D stood for day and H stood for hour. So you'd have D-Day and H-Hour. They used the letter when the actual time and date were top secret.

Dogfight
The concept that dogs fight one another is as old as time. The idea that aerial combat was similar has only been around since the First World War, since the technology was not available prior to then.

This is a photo of the condensation trails left by British
and German aircraft after a dogfight during the Battle of Britain.

Dud
It went from meaning ragged clothing to useless things. Useless things naturally led itself to refer to shells that didn't explode during the war.

Dump
Another word that changed meaning in the war. Originally referring to throwing something down, during the war it came to mean to discard, get rid of, abandon, etc.

Fritz
This slang term for German people was in use before the war, but gained widespread usage during it. Apparently during the First World War a lot of people were talking about the Germans...

Posh
Suggested as being an acronym for port out, starboard home to refer to the best way to commandeer a boat so that your richer passengers stay in the shade. The word also had other meanings such as money or dandy and currently seems to derive meaning from both.

Strafing
The word strafe came from the German word for punish as overheard by troops opposing them. It's always been some form of attack, but it took another World War before it came to have its more specific meaning of shooting up ground locations from low flying aircraft.

Tank
Again a word that got a new meaning during the war, we're familiar with the older meaning, fuel container. The newest weapon on the market apparently looked like benzene tanks. The name stuck.

Trench
Well, we wonder where this could have came from! Unsurprisingly, a tonne of trench related words came about during the war. The word trench itself came from French. (Apologies for the rhyme.) The old French word trenche referred to a ditch or a slice.

Trench coat
What do you call a coat you wear in the trenches? This compound noun explains it all.

Doesn't he look classy in his trench coat?

Trench foot
If your foot goes funny from being in the gross environment of the cold, wet trenches you continue putting together compound nouns with the word trench in them to describe your symptoms.

Trench mouth
The same idea as trench foot, only it's your mouth that shows the grotesque symptoms of infection.

Zero-hour
This term was used in wartime to refer to the starting time for a military option. Now we use it as the start time for just about anything!

Tomorrow we'll have more war terms in Part 2 for Veterans Day, the American equivalent of Remembrance Day. It's technically on November 11th as well, but it's generally celebrated on the nearest Monday to that date...  we'll try not to mention American tardiness in reference to war...