November 11:  Words from War Day

Today is the anniversary of the end of fighting in World War I. The “war to end all wars” had begun in Europe in 1914, and it raged on until November 11, 1918 when the fighting ended on the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month.  The official end of the war came seven months later on June 28, 1919 when the Treaty of Versailles was signed.

The first official Armistice Day was proclaimed by President Woodrow Wilson on November 11, 1919, the first anniversary of the end of World War I, but the day didn’t become a legal holiday in the Unites States until 1938.  After World War II, President Dwight D. Eisenhower issued a proclamation that changed the name from Armistice Day to Veterans Day, making it a day to honor all veterans.

The war in Europe popularized a number of words and expressions, many of which we use today without realizing that they emerged from the muddy trenches of Belgium and France.

Here is a sample of the WWI words from Speaking Freely: A Guided Tour of American English:

ACE: a pilot who had shot down at least five enemy planes.

DOGFIGHT: an air battle between two planes.

GOLDBRICK: this term first referred to a second lieutenant, whose rank insignia is a rectangular gold bar. Because many of these officers were appointed from civilian life without training or experience, the term became one of derision, referring to anyone who did not do his share.

DUD: a shell or bomb that fails to explode. The term became broadened to mean anything that did not meet expectations.

SLACKER: one who tries to avoid military service. Not until the 80s and 90s did this word evolve to mean a lazy, unambitious young adult.

DOGTAG: a disk worn on a chain around the serviceman’s neck, for identification in case of injury or death.

Today’s Challenge:  Them’s Fighin’ Words!

What are some English words that you think might trace their origin to warfare?  World War I was not the only war to contribute significantly to the English lexicon. In her book Fighting Words: From War, Rebellion, and Other Combative Capers, lexicographer Christine Ammer traces a huge number of words and phrases that have their origins in warfare.  The ten words below are just a small sample of the many words and phrases that entered the language from warfare.  Select one of the words, or one of your own, and do a bit of research to trace its etymology.  Write an explanation of the word’s history, including how its origin relates to warfare as well as the modern meaning of the word.

antebellum

brainwashing

Catch-22

deadline

echelon

flak

gung-ho

hawks and doves

incommunicado

jingoism

Quotation of the Day: A language is a dialect with an army and a navy. -Max Weinreich

1-Office of Public Affairs – “History of Veterans Day”

http://www.va.gov/opa/vetsday/vetdayhistory.asp

2- Flexner, Stuart Berg and Anne H. Soukhanov.  Speaking Freely: A Guided Tour of American English. Oxford University Press, 1997.

 

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