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Words like 'binge drink', 'washed-up' legacy of World War I

Press Trust of India  |  London 

The conflict which ended almost a century ago is responsible for hundreds of words and phrases being used today in the English language, according to a new study.

Terms believed to have become common parlance because of the war include 'cushy', 'snapshot', 'bloke', 'wash out', 'binge drink' and 'pushing up daisies', the 'Daily Mail' reported.

It is claimed that many of the phrases had previously been used by just one geographical region or social class before the war - until hundreds of thousands of British men were forced to mix with one another in the trenches.

Historians Peter Doyle and Julian Walker have analysed thousands of documents from the period and after studying letters from the front, newspapers and diaries, they have traced the striking development of the English language between 1914 and 1918.

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

"The war was a melting pot of classes and nationalities, with people thrown together under conditions of stress. It was a very creative time for language. Soldiers have always had a genius for slang and coming up with terms," Walker, who works at the British Library, said.

"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," Walker added.

The historians co-authored the book 'Trench Talk: Words of the First World War' and revealed that 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'.

'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.

The phrase 'wash out' described the process of aspiring officers who failed their commissions being 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, the report said.

'Binge' was originally a Lancashire term to describe overindulgence of alcohol while 'Souvenir' - the French phrase came to replace keepsake as main word for memento.


First Published: Mon, November 26 2012. 15:25 IST