The Minute Book
Wednesday, 30 November 2016

The Soldier's Slang (US Army, 1909)
Topic: Soldier Slang

The Soldier's Slang (US Army, 1909)

Army Vernacular as Odd as That of the Navy
Many Queer Expressions
A Man Just Enlisted is Called "a Rooky," and men Who Enlist at the Beginning of Winter and Desert in the Spring Are Called "Snowbirds."

The Ottawa Free Trader, Ottawa, Illinois, 9 July 1909

The army has just as odd a vernacular as the navy. To the uninitiated some army expressions would convey little or no sense, as, for example, if a soldier were heard to say, "The top told me to report for kitchen police and help skin the spuds for slum for supper," the hearer would have several guesses before he would come anywhere near what this meant in the patter of the barracks.

In plain language, it means that the first sergeant (the ranking or orderly sergeant) had told him to report to the cook to assist him in peeling the potatoes to make the hash or stew for supper. Hash or stew is always "slum," and the first sergeant is "the top;" "kitchen police," a man who assists the cook in the preparation of meals and the washing of dishes, pans, etc.

A man who has just enlisted or who has not yet been in the ranks long enough to be considered a full-fledged soldier, having learned all his duties, is called "a rooky," and woe be unto the "rooky" who gets "fresh" before old sergeant who has been in the ranks since before the fresh "rooky" was born! He will be told in any but gentle terms by the old timer: "Shut up and go about your work. Your name is not yet dry on your enlistment paper!" meaning that when he was sworn in and promised to serve for three years and obey the "orders of the president and the officers appointed over him" he had signed his name to this paper and the signature had not had time to get dry.

When a man says he is going to "take on" or "take on another blanket," he means that he is going to re-enlist. The government, in the clothing allowance for each man, provides a blanket; hence the term to "take on another blanket."

The guardhouse is called "the mill." Some ill-behaved soldier away back in the past (the term is a very old one) no doubt thought his term in the guardhouse ground out toward its end very slowly, so he applied this now much used name to the prison of the garrison.

When "the top" says, "Get your blanket and go to the mill," the soldier knows he is in for a tour of duty in the guardhouse, and his blanket means one of more nights, for in that much to be avoided place nothing is supplied in the way of comforts, and each occupant carries with him his blanket, or more if he has them, to make his rest more comfortable.

All meals are called "chuck," and along toward mealtime the expression, "Is it not time for chuck call to blow?" is heard very frequently.

"Snowbirds" are men who enlist in the winter about the time the snow begins to fall and the real snowbird puts in is appearance and desert in the spring when the robin appears. They "take on" only to tide over the winter with its discomforts.

The oldest man in the company is "dad" and the youngest "the kid."

Any deserter is called a "skipper."

Two men who share the same small tent or whose bunks are side by side in the barrack room are called "bunkies." This ancient term originated in the days of the very old army, when the bunks were "built for two" and two men slept side by side on a mattress filled with straw and one blanket apiece, much different from today, when each man has his hair mattress, pillow, sheets and blankets. A "bunkey" always has a chew or a filling for a pipe for his mate, when he might tell another man that he has not enough weed to "put under your nail."

All fines received in court are called "blind," so that a man who received ten days in the guardhouse and a fine of $5 would tell his comrades that he "got ten days in the mill and five blind."

The commanding officer of a company or the post is always the "old man." If he is not liked other terms, not parlor talk, are used.

All field musicians are called "wind jammers" on account of their jamming of wind into a trumpet that calls the men to labor or rest.

Every man on the completion of his term of enlistment is given a discharge. At the bottom of his paper in olden times was a space in which the character borne by the man during his enlistment was written. If his service had been bad this part of the discharge was cut off, and it was called a "bobtail." In speaking of the length of time a man had to serve before he had completed his term of enlistment the term "butt" means less than a year. So to say he has a year and a little less than two years he would say "a year and a butt."

There are a number of men in the ranks who save their money and lend it to others. The rate is very high. If a man borrows $2 he must pay $4 at pay day. This is called "cent per cent."

The Senior Subaltern

Posted by regimentalrogue at 12:01 AM EST
Saturday, 22 October 2016

Slang of the Great War
Topic: Soldier Slang

Slang of the Great War

The Age, Melbourne, Australia, 30 November 1929
By F.W.H.

A comprehensive list of the unique words and phrases coined and used during the Greta War would require a volume; and what an interesting book it would be. Some of them—surprisingly few—have become part and parcel of everyday language; the majority, however, are quickly passing into oblivion, being only remembered when a few old comrades foregather at the anniversary of the armistice or the celebration of ANZAC and other memorable days.

Much of the war-time slang was inspired by an instinct for self-protection against the terrible assaults of reality. As one writer expressed it: "To mitigate his (the soldier's) often atrocious sufferings, to lessen his sense of the perils surrounding him at all times and in all places, he was at pains to become familiar, indeed cheeky, with them all; and, like Beaumarchais' Fiargo, "make haste to laugh lest he be compelled to weep." Thus "what the soldiers said in the war" is evidence of many things. It is evidence of his sufferings, and of the amazing powers of adaptation which the human mind can summon to the breach of all ordinary habit, outlook and experience. But above all, it is evidence of the innate humor of the typical Digger and Tommy.

What humorous and suggestive appellations he coined for food. Thus poached eggs on toast were dubbed, "Adam and Eve on a raft"; fried eggs and bacon were "Two dots and a dash": sausages were "barkers"; milk became "cow juice" and "Dooley"; cheese was "cough and sneeze"; a bun was a "wad"; whilst a thick slice of bread became a "doorstep." Whilst butter was invariably "grease," salt became dignified as "Lot's wife"; gravy was "gippa"; Potatoes were of course "murphies" and "spuds," and also "totties"; and onions were "violets." A favourite estaminet dish, "Pomme de terre frites," was promptly christened "Bombardier Fritz"; porridge was invariably "burgoo"; and food generally was "chuck," "rooti" and "toke."

For drink and its intoxicating effects the soldier had a varied vocabulary. Beer was "suds," "stagger juice," "pig's ear" and "berai," and a glass of beer was a "blob." To be drunk was to be "blotto," "canned" or "cut"; any one very drunk was "blindo"; whilst being merely tipsy was to be "Bosky." When one set out on a carouse he was said "to go on the batter," or "on the binge"; and "canteen medals" was the term applied to drippings of beer on a tunic. Rum for some undiscovered reason was "scoach," also "red eye."

Originality was displayed in the nomenclature of enemy shells. These in general were dubbed "iron rations," the title originally applied to the tin rations supplied to the troops. Individual enemy shells were known by such distinctive names as "Asiatic Annie," "Whistling Percy," "Pip Squeak," "Jack Johnson," "Wooly Bear," "Minnie," "Tube Train," "Black Maria," "Whizz bang" and "Coal Box." Anti-aircraft shell were invariably "Archirs." Some famous guns were "Big Bertha," "Grandmother," "Lazy Eliza," "Coughing Clara," and "Billy Wells."

As might be expected many grimly ironical phrases were coined to describe wounds and death. A bad head wound was dubbed "a cushy one on the bake"; a nasty wound was "a dull thud" or "a loud one"; to be hit by a bullet was "to stop one," and to feel ill was to "feel like death warmed up." Being taken to undergo an operation was "to go to the pictures"; an anesthetic was a "dope"; to be in hospital was to be "in dock." An expectation of inevitable death was expressed by "I s'pose I'll be a land owner," and the cemetery was known as "the rest camp." The war zone was often referred to as "the shooting gallery," and the soldier's bayonet was described as a "toothpick," a "toasting fork," a "winkle-pin" and "a persuader." His identity disk was his "cold meat ticket," and his clasp knife a "cat stabber." The cheaper cigarettes supplied to the troops were known as "yellow perils" and "canteen stinkers," while Woodbines were "coffin nails," and the butt of a cigarette was a "blink."

Divisional orders were irreverently dubbed "Comic Cuts" and flying was known as the "comic business."

The soldier delighted in transforming the alliterative and distinguished names of regiments and decorations into unflattering titles. Thus the A.S.C. became "Ally Sloper's Cavalry," the Durham Light Infantry were the "Dirty Little Imps," the D.S.O. was "Dirty Shirt On," the A.O.C. were known as "All Old Crooks" and the R.A.M.C. as the "Linseed lancers."

One important class of slang words naturally sprang from the fighting men's attempt to pronounce and adapt French words and phrases. Thus "katsoo" preserved somewhat the French pronunciation of quatre sous, while allez toute de suite became "alley toot sweet." "Sanferian," or "snaffer," contained all the elements of cela ne faire rien. "Comprey?" for comprenez? Was very popular, as also were "bon," or "Bong," "fashy" (fache) and "mongee." Ypres became "Wipers" and "Eepray." "Balloo" was as near as he could get to Bailleul.

That most familiar of war words "Boche" has an interesting pre-war history. Originally it had nothing to do with the German, and it was not so applied until after the war of 1870. It originally signified "a bad lot." Zola, in "L'Assommoir," called the Alsatian concierges "les boches"; later Germans were described as Alboches (Allemend-boche), and then the al was dropped. Boche, in France, became the parent of such words as bochiser, to Germanise, bochonnie, Germany, and bochonnerie, German villainy.

Two slang words which apparently could mean anything whatever were "oojar" and "gadget." The latter was applied to almost every device or appliance used by soldiers and airmen, and when they were at a loss for a word to express their feelings about a circumstance. Person or thing they invariably described it as an (adjective to oojar or oojiboo).

Researching Canadian Soldiers of the First World War

Posted by regimentalrogue at 12:01 AM EDT
Updated: Monday, 10 October 2016 10:51 AM EDT
Sunday, 2 October 2016

British Compiling Dictionary to Preserve Slang of Tommy (1921)
Topic: Soldier Slang

British Compiling Dictionary to Preserve Slang of Tommy

Words and Phrases Used by English Soldiers in the Trenches to Be Placed in Museum—Seek History of Words

St. Petersburg Times, 19 November 1921

London, No. 18.—An effort is to be made to preserve in the British museum the war time slang of the British Tommy. For the benefit of the students of the great war a dictionary is in the course of compilations dealing with the many words and phrases born of the war.

The secretary of the imperial war museum has issued a request for notes on the subject giving the slang terms used in the British army, together with the meaning of the words and, if possible, their derivation.

Much of this slang was a legacy of the old regular soldier at Mons and originated for the most part in the east. The most popular and most romantic and sentimental was "blighty." That is now almost universally used. It was derived from the Hindustani and means home.

However, the history of such expressions as "kip," "posh," "wangle," "eyewash," "swank," "square pushing" or "wind-up" is not yet written, and the secretary aforesaid is now carefully collating his data. In his request for data the secretary naively suggests "that, of course, many of the army terms are not polite and hardly fit for publication."

As a rule, however, the slang of the British Tommy has a much more wholesome derivation than most of the French "argot les tranches."

One Trench Language

Perhaps the most astounding thing about the army slang of the British is the generality of its uses. Those knowing Great Britain know that the dialect of no two counties is alike. The accent of the Lancashiremen is as different as possible from that of his neighbor, the Yorkshireman, while the troops from Northumberland were completely and wonderfully unintelligible to the rest of the British Army. Many of the Welsh regiments, too, could speak no other language, but their native Welsh. Yet the language of the trench was the same for all.

To all a "brass hat" was a staff field officer. True, the Scotsman put two extra "rs" into it, and the Northumbrian, as he is wont, "gutturalled" the "r" and made it appear like—well, certainly nothing which could be printed.

Some of the examples are as follows:

  • Air-flappers—Army signallers.
  • Archie—An anti-aircraft gun. (Probably a corruption of air-craft.)
  • Bully—Bully Beef—Tinned corned beef. (A relic of South Africa.)
  • Buchshee—Anything which is to spare or can be borrowed. (Derived from the African beggars' terms backsheesh.)
  • Blighty—Home, England. (Hindustani.)
  • Bynt—A young woman (Arabic).
  • Cushy—Soft. (Derived from cushion. A cushy wound is a slight wound. A cushy job is a task which can be performed sitting down.)

Some Hindu, Too.

  • Dekko—To look. (Hindustani.)
  • Eyewash—Over-elaboration, generally in some scheme to hoodwink a general.
  • Emma Gees—The signalling term for the initials M.G., i.e., machine gunner.
  • Jerry—A German soldier.
  • Kip—To sleep; a bed.
  • Lancejack—A lance corporal.
  • Leaf—Leave of absence (Corruption of leave.)
  • Monjy—Bread, or something to eat. (Corruption of the French.)
  • Posh—Ultra smart.
  • Padre—An army chaplain.
  • Quarter bloke—The quartermaster.
  • Red Cap—An army policeman who wears a red cap.
  • Scupper—To wipe out completely.
  • Square Pushing—To walk out with a sweetheart in a soldier's best uniform.
  • Sapper—An engineer.
  • Swanking—Four-flushing.
  • Snob—The regimental bootmaker.
  • Snips—The regimental tailor.
  • Wangle—To achieve an objective by doubtful means. "Wangling leaf" means to get leave of absence by giving a false reason.
  • Wind-up—To be nervous and apprehensive. It does not necessarily mean frightened; many of the bravest soldiers confessed to having the "wind up." In the officers' mess it was known generally as the "vertical breeze" or the "draught."
  • Researching Canadian Soldiers of the First World War

Posted by regimentalrogue at 12:01 AM EDT
Updated: Friday, 23 September 2016 9:25 PM EDT
Wednesday, 13 May 2015

Lingo of No Man's Land
Topic: Soldier Slang

Lingo of No Man's Land

The Lewiston Daily Sunday, 13 May 1918
Copyright 1918 by British Canadian Recruiting Mission

Counter Battery Duel

A counter battery duel occurs when a battery on one side is answered by a battery on the other side. Two methods of "return" are used:

  1. When an enemy battery shells one of our batteries, if the enemy position is successfully located, we may answer shell for shell in an effort to silence if.
  2. 2. The usual method, however, is for the battery which is the target of enemy shells to keep quiet, but get into communications with several heavy artillery batteries, which will direct a fierce return fire from big guns until the enemy is silenced.

High Explosive Shell

A high explosive shell contains no bullets. It does not explode until it hits the ground but on explosion, the bursts into fragments which are thrown in all directions.


The lowest non-commissioned officer attached to an artillery battery. He wears one stripe on his arms and his rank is equivalent to a lance corporal in the infantry.

Ammunition Column

An ammunition column is a train of transports or wagons drawn by horses or mules, engaged in carrying munitions from the railroads to the munitions dumps and from the dumps to the batteries.

Dud Shells

A dud shell is a dead one, that is, one does not explode after being fired. Removing these unexploded shells is one of the dangers of reclaiming the waste land over which the armies have been fighting.

Knife Rest

A wire entanglement made in sections behind the line and carried forward at night to be set up in No Man's Land. This method is easier and quicker construction than out on No Man's Land exposed to enemy fire.

Concertina Wire

Coils of wire like a concertina are one of the methods of wire entanglement. These coils are linked together to form an obstacle more difficult for the Germans to get through than the ordinary tangled wire protection.

Patrol Parties

These are groups of from three to 20 men usually accompanied by an officer, sent out into No Man's Land at night with some definite object in view, either to report on enemy movements in the trenches, conditions of the barb-wire entanglements or locations of breaks through which attacking infantry may go. Small parties usually go out on this work and move by stealth, creeping and crawling from shell-hole to shell-hole to keep out of sight of the enemy when a rocket or "star-shell" makes No man's Land as bright as day. Large patrols armed with machine guns are sometimes sent out to attack and capture an enemy patrol and secure information from the prisoners.

Star Shell or Very Light

Is a rocket fired from a pistol. It bursts in the air with fireworks display bright enough to illumine No Man's Land and reveal enemy scouts. Colored shells are used for signals. The Very bright SOS rocket is called by the soldiers "Save Our Souls." A scout in No Man's Land upright in the glare of an exploding rocket is often entirely safe if he stands perfectly still.


A sharp-shooter, located in some place of advantage like an old tree or ruined tower, close enough to the enemy lines for him to be able to pick off any man caught above the parapet. The contour of the ground and the constant shall-fire makes many places where the trench walls are low or have been partly blown away, and any soldier who forgets to duck his head in passing such a spot, is a fair target for the sniper.


Rehearsing the plan of attack behind the lines, so as to avoid misunderstandings and delays in action is called "Over–the–tapes." From aerial photographs, a map of white tape is laid out in some field behind the lines, showing the relation and direction of enemy trenches from our own and the distance between the various points. Each soldiers learns exactly how far and in what direction from his own post, is the part of the enemy trench which he is to reach and capture.

Wiring Party

Wiring parties are sent out at night to repair damage in the barb-wire entanglements, or to put up new entanglements in front of the trenches. The work is always done at night, in order to avoid the danger of enemy fire.

Pushing Up the Daisies

This expression means a man has been killed and buried.

M & V

Meat and vegetables, or in army official language, rations.

Bully Beef

The soldier's name for the canned corn beef, which is a principal part of his diet.

Iron Rations

The special 24-hour emergency allowances of bully beef and hard tack or ship's biscuits which the soldiers receive before going into the trenches.


When the soldiers come out of the trenches for rest, they are housed with French families in the neighborhood, or given sleeping quarters in barns or outhouses [i.e., outbuildings]. These are their billets.


The French word adopted by the British soldiers, meaning "drinking house" or saloon, where they can buy beer, French wines and similar drinks.

Rum Jar

Not a drinking vessel, but a term for the German home-made trench mortar. It looks like a piece of stove pipe on a wooden base, it is filled with all kinds of metal bits, and is fitted with a time fuse.

Researching Canadian Soldiers of the First World War

Posted by regimentalrogue at 12:01 AM EDT
Updated: Friday, 23 September 2016 9:26 PM EDT

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