Words from WWI

Today marks one century since the start of World War I. It was the first time the world had seen a truly global conflict, with soldiers from six different continents involved. So when these men from various countries and walks of life mixed, they added in various dialect, slang, foreign and altogether new words to their conversations. There are many words we still use today that were brought back from the trenches when the war was over.

One such word is binge. We tend to think of it as a fairly modern phenomenon, especially with regard to binge drinking. But in fact, binge was first used to mean a bout of heavy drinking in 1854. It was originally a Northern dialect word meaning ‘soak’ that became more widespread when Brits from all over the country mixed during WWI and then it began to refer to excessive eating as well as drinking.

As for a slang word that was popularised by the war, how about chum? It could have originally been a slang term for a thief’s accomplice or a colloquial university word for ‘roommate’, short for ‘chambermate’, but during the war it became a common word for ‘friend’.

One word I would never have considered to be a loan word is Blighty itself, meaning ‘Britain’. The original word was the Arabic wilayat, which meant ‘dominion, district’. From there, came the Urdu word bilayati, which was used to refer to any foreign European. British troops posted to India were often referred to in this way so they eventually adopted Blighty as their own.

Finally, a new word that was propagated by WWI and is a particular favourite of mine is bumf. It’s a contraction of bum fodder and initially meant ‘toilet paper’ but it was soon applied to any communication from headquarters.

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