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Common expressions which date from WW1


Guest Braganza
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It was the thread on "Favourite WW1 sayings" which started me thinking about this. I have over the years come over a lot of common expressions in every day use which appear to have their origins in WW1, and I wondered if anyone knew of any more. For example:

"To go the whole 9 yards": Vickers machine gun standard ammo belt was 9 yards long.

"Walkover": From first day of the Somme (originally used ironically, perhaps?).

"To go like s**t off a shovel": No commentary required, I suspect. :rolleyes:

And here is one which I heard comparatively recently. The story goes that "chat" is an Indian (Hindi? Urdu? perhaps some one can put me right on this) word for louse. "Chatting" was the activity of delousing your clothing using candles, matches etc. in the trenches. While doing it, soldiers would gossip, natter or whatever you want to call it. Over time, the term "chatting" got removed from the one activity and applied to the other.

This is of course quite separate from the plethora of words of military slang which come from India and which are still quite common in the Army of today (well, at least of 12 years ago when I left) such as "dhobi", "chit", "bundook", "wallah" etc.

Are there any more good WW1 ones out there?

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It was the thread on "Favourite WW1 sayings" which started me thinking about this. I have over the years come over a lot of common expressions in every day use which appear to have their origins in WW1, and I wondered if anyone knew of any more. For example:

"To go the whole 9 yards": Vickers machine gun standard ammo belt was 9 yards long.

"Walkover": From first day of the Somme (originally used ironically, perhaps?).

"To go like s**t off a shovel": No commentary required, I suspect. :rolleyes:

And here is one which I heard comparatively recently. The story goes that "chat" is an Indian (Hindi? Urdu? perhaps some one can put me right on this) word for louse. "Chatting" was the activity of delousing your clothing using candles, matches etc. in the trenches. While doing it, soldiers would gossip, natter or whatever you want to call it. Over time, the term "chatting" got removed from the one activity and applied to the other.

This is of course quite separate from the plethora of words of military slang which come from India and which are still quite common in the Army of today (well, at least of 12 years ago when I left) such as "dhobi", "chit", "bundook", "wallah" etc.

Are there any more good WW1 ones out there?

I believe going the whole 9 yards to be of American origin, so unlikely to be WW1. A walkover comes from a race with only one entrant so that it is won by walking over the finishing line. The third? well, both Sh***t and shovels predate WW1.

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For example:

"To go the whole 9 yards": Vickers machine gun standard ammo belt was 9 yards long.

For a start, the standard Vickers machine gun ammunition belt of WW1 and WW2 was no where near 9 yards (or 27 feet).

To "go the whole nine yards" is often attributed to WW2 American aircraft use, where the ammunition belts of their Brownings WERE apparently 9 yards long, and to fire all the rounds was "to go the whole 9 yards".

However, there is another apparent suggestion that an earlier version of this saying, relating to sails, was in use over 100 years before the Great War began - I'll let you do the research on that one... ;)

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From the CEF Study Group's Recommended List of Great War websites ...

A Dictionary of Great War Slang by Paul Hinckley Sept 2005

The argot of the British soldier seems to be largely derived from a legacy of Indian and Arabic dialect words picked up and passed on from the previous campaigns in India and Egypt, coupled with the Tommies' rather awkward pronunciation of some of the commoner French words and phrases. This mixture made for a colourful and interesting blend. Learn the meanings of "iddy umpty", "a maiden's prayer", the "spotted dog" and to "wet one's stripes" from this website.

[Recommended by Brett Payne]

http://sir.cyivs.cy.edu.tw/~hchung/warslang.htm

Here is a sampling from this recommended website:

GIEVES, MATTHEW & SEAGROVE

Naval slang for the trio of Great War campaign medals (1914-15 Star, British War Medal, Victory Medal). From the well-known firm of naval outfitters. See also Pip, Squeak & Wilfred.

GLASSHOUSE

Prison or detention centre.

GLORY HOLE

Dug-out.

GOER

Shell passing overhead.

GOGGLE-EYED BOOGER WITH THE TIT

British gas helmet. The wearer had to breathe in through the nose from inside the helmet and breathe out through a valve held in the teeth.

GOOSEBERRY

Barbed wire entanglement or reel. From the prickly nature of the gooseberry bush.

GORBLIMEY

Peaked canvas service cap, made sloppy in appearance by removing the wire stiffener from the crown, not usually seen until after the end of 1914; generally scruffy or sloppy. A Cockney expression, a corruption of God blind me.

GO UP

To go up the line, i.e. into the trenches.

GO WEST

(1) To be killed, to die. The most popular euphemism of this type. (2) To go astray or be stolen.

GRASS-CUTTERS

Small anti-personnel bombs dropped from aircraft on to camps and bivouacs behind the lines. They were designed to burst on impact and scatter shrapnel balls at low-level, with the intention to kill rather than to destroy material things.

GREEN CROSS

German phosgene gas, from the marking painted on the delivery shell casing.

GREYBACK

(1) British army shirt, with sharp-edged tin buttons. From the colour. (2) A louse.

GREY HEN

Rum jar. A grey and brown earthenware jug which contained the rum ration, usually Navy Pusser's rum.

GRIFFIN

Confidential information or warning of trouble to come. The bottom line.

GROG

Rum, usually watered down.

GRUBBER

Spade or entrenching tool.

GUM BOOTS

Rubber boots or waders sometimes worn in wet trenches.

GUNFIRE

Strong tea, usually laced with rum.

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And here is one which I heard comparatively recently. The story goes that "chat" is an Indian (Hindi? Urdu? perhaps some one can put me right on this) word for louse.

I have my own (probably incorrect) theory on this. I've heard old soldiers refer to the lice in the trenches as chats and use the term "chatting" for de-lousing. Tying this down to a Hindi word though is more difficult. Dictionary.com says that the word has middle English origins - "chatten: to jabber, alteration of chateren".

The only word in Hindi as far as I know, that come close to chat, is chaat. Chaat is more of a generic term for all sorts of snacky type foods. Typically the chaat stalls set up in the evening and you can buy a plate of food for five or six rupees. And here's where my theory comes in. The puffed rice elements of chaat would not look so dissimilar from louse eggs. Presumably the sound made when cracking the puffed rice would also not be a million miles away from the sound of the eggs cracking. Soldiers in India would have seen the chaat stalls everywhere and it may not be such a wild stretch of the imagination to make the connection between types of chaat and lice eggs.

Paul

I'm surprised by the way, that dhobi, bundook and wallah are still in use in the British Army. Chit, I can understand because that's as established in the English language as "bungalow" I should think but I'm surprised those other, very Indian, words are still part of army parlance.

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'chat' is used by Shakespeare - in the gossip sense, rather than de-lousing. I've heard 'blighty' used recently, but I think another favourite, 'gone for a Burton' is of WWII vintage.

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My late father used the phrase "Gone for a Burton" frequently. Definately WW2 RAF expression.

There was a Burton beer advertising campaign pre war in which a person would be missing from a group and the answer to wherethey had gone would be "He's Gone for a Burton."

Jane

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  • 1 month later...

Shrapnel

Someone aked me if I could change a 10 pound note this morning.

I emptied my purse to get £1 & £2 coins and she said - can I have some of your shrapnel?

Referring to the silver coins

Jane

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Did --it will all be over by xmas --come from WW1 ??

I don't think so. I've seen it written by soldiers who went to South Africa for the Boer War.

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My dad who was a WW2 vet and not WW1, was a keen gardener and if my mother called him in for a meal he would say "Can't come now, up to my ears in muck and bullets!"...I often wondered if that was a WW1 expression

Caryl

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My dad who was a WW2 vet and not WW1, was a keen gardener and if my mother called him in for a meal he would say "Can't come now, up to my ears in muck and bullets!"...I often wondered if that was a WW1 expression

Caryl

"Up to my neck in muck and bullets" was a catch phrase used in the early 1960s by the comedian Arthur Haynes, in his tramp persona. The character was created by Johnny Speight, who later created Alf Garnett.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/comedy/guide/articles...w_7770375.shtml

Did Johnny Speight make it up, or did he adopt/adapt a WW1 expression?

Enquiring minds wish to know.

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Are there any other words other than Pal used to describe comrades in WW1? I know in WW2 there was Mate, Mucker and Chum (especially in India/Burma) or are they WW1 vintage too?

Lionboxer

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I've been led to believe that the term "Over The Hill" refers to the deaths of so many Scots who fell at Hill 70 on the opening day ot the Battle of Loos.

Perhaps the term was used before that time but it was certainly used to describe the deaths of at least two local men who were "Over The Hill" on that date.

And the derivation of "First Aid Nursing Yeomanry" is still a commonly used term (especially in Scotland).

I will refrain from elaborating. :o

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What about 'Moaning Minnie' didn't this refer to some type of shell/bomb?

My mum often threw that one at me "Stop being a Moaning Minnie"...("Who me???")

I use quite a few of these old sayings in everyday speech but probably sound like an old dinosaur to my kids who call them 'Mum's funny little sayings', so maybe common expressions of mine and my parent's generation but maybe lots of them not so much in use by today's yoof!?

Caryl

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" any more for any more":

A jocular shout by the orderly man when he had given every man his share of a meal, and still had some stew or tea or rice remaining. Also used by the man running a Crown and Anchor board or a House outfit, inviting others to join in before the game began.

Baby's Head: Meat pudding.

Backs to the Wall: By F.M. Sir Douglas Haig.

Banjo: A shovel.

Battle Bowler: slang for steel helmet. (Tin Hat).

Batty. Gone Mad.

Bevvy: Drink especially Beer.

Blob: a glass of beer.

Blotto: Drunk.

Bonce: The head.

Booby-Trap: A German explosive devices to catch the unwary.

Box open, box shut or Open box, Shut Box: A phrase used when offering cigarettes or kit.

Brass Hats: Senior Staff Officers.

Breather: A short pause or period of rest in drill

Canned Up: Drunk.

Cannon-Fodder: Soldiers (Ptes).

Chew the fat: Have a chat.

More to come

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Derek, I'v come across the term 'over the hill' quite a few times in my research of Loos. I think it was from them doing roll-call after the battle and some men replying 'he's over the hill' when they shouted out a casualties name. I don't know if it predates WW1 but i'll always associate with Loos.

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What about 'Moaning Minnie' didn't this refer to some type of shell/bomb?

My mum often threw that one at me "Stop being a Moaning Minnie"...("Who me???")

Caryl

I don't know about in WW1, but in WW2 'Moaning Minnie' was the name given to the air raid siren.

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This is of course quite separate from the plethora of words of military slang which come from India and which are still quite common in the Army of today (well, at least of 12 years ago when I left) such as "dhobi", "chit", "bundook", "wallah" etc.

Regrettably, three out of four have disappeared - "chit" remains in use. A "smoke break" (used to define a break during training) has almost disappeared but a NAAFI break perists (even though the Institute itself has almost gone too) :(

Stephen

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I don't know about in WW1, but in WW2 'Moaning Minnie' was the name given to the air raid siren.

That's interesting, hadn't heard that before and could be where my mum got it from as she (only just) survived the blitz of Liverpool but I came across the term 'minnie' in a poem I posted earlier from the BEF Times 1917 in the Rum thread

...And blatant minnies rack the night..

Caryl

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That's interesting, hadn't heard that before and could be where my mum got it from as she (only just) survived the blitz of Liverpool but I came across the term 'minnie' in a poem I posted earlier from the BEF Times 1917 in the Rum thread

...And blatant minnies rack the night..

Caryl

Caryl

In this context could "minnies" be short for "Mine Thrower" or Minenwerfer?

http://www.mortarsinminiature.com/German_7...Minenwerfer.htm

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