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How trench talk from WW1 entrenched the English language

London, Mon, 26 Nov 2012 ANI

London, November 26 (ANI): In a new study, researchers have revealed the impact the First World War had on the English language and the words it introduced.

The new research has shown how the conflict meant that hundreds of words and phrases came into common parlance thanks to the trenches.

Among the list of everyday terms found to have originated or spread from the conflict are cushy, snapshot, bloke, wash out, conk out, blind spot, binge drink and pushing up daisies.

The research has been conducted by Peter Doyle, a military historian, and Julian Walker, an etymologist, who have analysed thousands of documents from the period - including letters from the front, trench newspapers, diaries, books and official military records - to trace how language changed during the four years of the war.

They found that the war brought military slang into the mainstream, imported French and even German words to English and saw words from local dialects become part of national conversation.

"The war was a melting plot of classes and nationalities, with people thrown together under conditions of stress," the Telegraph quoted Walker, who works at the British Library, as saying.

"It was a very creative time for language. Soldiers have always had a genius for slang and coming up with terms.

"This was a citizen army - and also the first really literate army - and at the end of the war, those that survived took their new terms back to the general population," he said.

The results of the research are included in a new book 'Trench Talk: Words of the First World War', which documents how new words and phrases originated, while others were spread from an earlier, narrow context, to gain new, wider meanings.

Many of the words were created by soldiers to describe their unfamiliar surroundings and circumstances. While they had to come up with names for new items like "trench coats" and "duckboards", other, more descriptive phrases were also developed.

"Lousy" and "crummy" both referred to being infested with lice, while "fed up" emerged as a widespread expression of weariness among the men.

Communiques from headquarters were derisively known as "bumf" - from "b-fodder", a term for toilet paper.

Such reports could often give rise to "guff" (rumours), although this was not to be confused with "gaffs", the term for makeshift theatres built behind the lines to entertain the troops.

Other phrases to develop were "snapshot" (from a quickly aimed and taken rifle shot), and "wash out", which described a process by which aspiring officers who failed their commissions and were sent back to their regiments, or "washed out".

By 1915 the term was being used to signify any kind of failure.

"Dud" also came to take on a wider meaning for something which failed, from the large number of faulty shells which did not explode.

Parcels from home would be "whacked out" or "whacked round" by the recipients, so they were shared among friends - each getting "a fair whack".

The brutality of life at the front also gave rise to many euphemisms, to describe death and fear.

Comrades who were killed were said to be "pushing up daisies", or to have "gone west" "snuffed it", "been skittled" or "become a landowner". Those who were afraid were said to have "got the wind up".

Many terms which were particular to one region or social class before the war entered common usage afterwards.

Examples include "scrounging" - to describe foraging for food, such as wild rabbits - which is thought to have derived from a northern dialect, and "binge" - to describe overindulgence in alcohol - previously just used in Lancashire. "Blotto" was another term for drunk popularised during the war.

Lower class words like "gasper" or "fag" and "bloke" - which previously referred just to a gentleman - moved from their narrow social roots.

Several phrases from the criminal underworld also entered wider use, among them "chum" - formerly slang for an accomplice - "rumbled" (to be found out) and "knocked off" (stolen).

Many more new terms came from the mix of nationalities thrown together by the war.

The French term souvenir replaced keepsake as the primary word for a memento, following exchanges with the locals, while officers being sacked were said to have "come ungummed" - from the French "degommer", to dismiss. This quickly developed into "come unstuck".

Other words arrived with troops from the US - such as "cooler", for prison - and Canada - including "swipe", for acquiring something by means that were not necessarily above board.

Several Hindi terms, picked up from Indian Army soldiers and already circulating in the regular, professional army, were also disseminated widely.

One of those most used at the front was "cushy" - from khush ('pleasure').

Soldiers would describe cushy, or comfortable billets, as well as cushy trenches, in quiet sectors.

The most well known term derived from Hindi though was "Blighty", from bilati, meaning "foreign", which, when applied by Indians to Britons, came to be perceived by Indian Army servicemen as the term "British". (ANI)

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