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How Trench Talks During WWI Enriched the English Vocabulary

How Trench Talks During WWI Enriched the English Vocabulary
on July, 24 2014
Image credit: British Soldiers in World War I taken by PD-OLD-70 under Public Domain.

Image credit: British Soldiers in World War I taken by PD-OLD-70 under Public Domain.

Engaging in war is never a good thing, however, the trench talks that went on during the First World War had enriched the English vocabulary. You may not know about them but you certainly have used some of these words. As we all know, there were several nations that were involved in the war, and soldiers of different nationalities fought alongside each other to protect millions of people. In the trenches where they spent most of their time waiting, they communicated using what is now termed as trench slang, which, today, had made it to mainstream English vocabulary. On July 28, it will be exactly 100 years since the start of the First World War.

Development of trench slang

It was amazingly a rich period for the English language where soldiers developed slang words that made their way into newspapers and even used by members of the British House of Commons during their debates.

These slang words developed due to the close bond between the men and the public-school educated junior officers that were in the army front line. With the introduction of conscription in 1916, the men coming from different areas got mixed together.

When the war ended, the Academie Francaise refused to use trench slang and journalistic language into what they call standard French. However, over in Germany, these new words were nourished and adopted by the paramilitary and rightist veterans' groups and was incorporated by the National Socialists together with their leader, Adolf Hitler.

Some of the common trench slang

  • No man's land.  This was the term used for the Western front, which was what they called the space between lines of trenches separating the two opposing sides.
  • Lie-factory. The German propaganda that started in September 1914 was termed lie-factory.
  • Blimp. This was the term they used for non-dirigible airships. They also called them sausages.
  • Mesopolonica. This term was a mix of Mesopotamia and Thessalonica, the word soldiers used when they did not know where they were sent, especially those that got stationed in the Middle East or the Balkans.
  • Scarper. This particular term was used even before 1914 and meant "to run away." It came from the Italian word "escarpare." It gained higher usage when the German fleet was scuppered (exposed, ambushed) in Scapa Flow, located in the Orkney Islands in Scotland.
  • Cushy. This was another Hindi term – coming from "khush" that translated to "pleasure." The frontliners described some of the trenches as cushy, if these trenches only had sporadic attacks and shelling.
  • Blighty. This term meant "foreign" and came from the Urdu word "bilayati," which was what they called the British troops that were stationed in India. When a British soldier wished for a "blighty one" they referred to being wounded but not being disabled, which allowed them to be sent home permanently, thus escaping the war.
  • In the pink. Soldiers used the phrase to indicate that they were still in good health to reassure their families back home.

The front liners during WWI soon became very adept at mangling words and phrases. Even names of some of the places in France did not escape this creative form of language. Ypres was called Wipers and Ploegsteert came to be called Plug Street. They called Mouquet Farm as Moo Cow Farm and Auchonvillers as Ocean Villas. They were also the sources of the words "crummy" and "lousy" that both meant infested with lice. "Fed up" was a term they used to describe their weariness and "snapshot" was their term when they quickly aim and shoot their rifle.


Bernadine Racoma

Bernadine is a writer, researcher, professional and multi-awarded blogger and new media consultant. She brings with her a rich set of experience in the corporate world, as well as in the field of research and writing. Having taken early retirement after working as an international civil servant and traveling the world for 22 years, she has aggressively pursued her main interest in writing and research. You can also find Bernadine Racoma at .

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