Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Trench Dictionary

As is the case in every war, the weary and bedraggled soldiers who have to endure suffering and hardship create their own unique vernacular. Exhibiting dry wit, the exasperating inability to pronounce French place names, and a remarkable ability to maintain a sense of humor in the most trying of circumstances, here a few samplings of what one might have heard during a tour
of the trenches in 1918..

Aches-and-Pains – this was the name given by American soldiers to the area in the French Alps where they went when they were on leave. The proper name was “Aix-les-Bains” but some sarcastic American soldier renamed it “Aches-and-Pains” – something the Doughboy of 1918 would be very familiar with.

Balloonatic – with the airplane still in its infancy, armies of the First World War still relied upon observation balloons to monitor enemy troop movements. Many soldiers thought that being suspended in the air for all to see was not a sane idea and they therefore starting dubbing those who went up in the balloons “balloonatics.”

Cootie – still heard in elementary school conversations around the country, the World War I meaning of “cootie” was a body louse. Thus, in 1918, “to have cooties” meant to be covered from head to toe in body lice. Lice were also known to be called “galloping freckles” on occasion.

Dog Biscuit – just like his Civil War ancestors, the Doughboy of World War I was issued hardtack – a type of cracker or biscuit, made from flour, water, and salt that was very hard on the teeth and the digestive system.

Forty and Eight – name applied to the French rail cars that would take newly-arrived American soldiers to the front lines because their maximum capacity was either forty men or eight horses.

Honey-dipper – name applied to a soldier who got into trouble and was forced to clean out the latrines.

Kanned Wilhelm – derogatory name given to canned beef; in “honor” of Germany’s Kaiser Wilhelm II; also called “kanned willie.”

The Meatgrinder – alternate name for the battlefield 

Parleyvoo – nickname given to French citizens

Pigsticker – bayonet

Scuttlebutt – rumors and gossip

Whizzbang – nickname given to a German .88 millimeter shell due to the noise it makes

1 comment:

  1. Excellent post, Jimmy! Reminds me of the part of the movie, The Lost Battalion, where they talk about "Herr Whizzbang" and "Miniwerfer".

    On another note, I hope to open the doors to my WWI blog soon. It focuses on Virginians in the war... over there and over here.