World War I was a traumatic, world-changing event. While it changed society and the course of history, it also changed the English language. Soldiers invented words and phrases to describe their activities and experiences, and their slang was different from that used by civilians. Many of the wartime slang terms are still in use today, although some definitions have changed.
World War One Slang That’s Faded Into History
The following are examples of slang words that originated during World War I but are no longer in use, along with their definitions.
- Archie: German anti-aircraft fire.
- Blighty: A wound that was serious enough to send a solider home but not serious enough to kill him.
- Boche: Allied nickname for a German. Also Fritz, Hun, Jerry, Kraut.
- Chew the rag: Argue endlessly
- Crump hole: Crater left behind from a heavy artillery shell.
- Diggers: Australian troops
- Doughboys: American troops
- To be in a flap: Worried
- Frog: French soldier
- Gone West: To die
- Pogey-bait: A sweet snack
- Stopped one: Getting shot.
- Napoo: Done
- Potato Masher: A German hand grenade.
- Tin hat: A helmet
- Trench rabbit: A rat
- Wastage: Casualties as a result of actions taken by politicians or military leaders. Also, those killed in between major battles.
- Willie: Corned beef
- Wipers: The Ypres Salient.
World War I Slang We Still Use
These are slang words that originated during World War I but whose meanings have changed. They are followed by their original meanings.
- Basket case: A solider injured so badly he could be carried off the battlefield in a basket.
- The Big Show: The Meuse-Argonne Offensive
- Camouflage: To disguise not a fabric pattern.
- Chatting: To sit around talking to other soldiers while picking lice (chats) from clothing.
- Chew the fat: Talk in a resentful manner.
- Cooties: Lice
- Crummy: Lice eggs
- D-Day: The start of a military operation.
- Lousy: Infected with lice.
- Over the top: To go over the top of a trench.
- Posh: Looking sharp.
No Explanation Needed
These are slang words whose meanings have not changed. While some originated during the war, others were regional terms that spread because of the conflict.
- Breaking new ground
- Booby trap
- Bullshit (empty talk)
- Chow (food rations)
- Cold feet
- Conk out
- Digging in
- Dog fight
- Dud (a shell that doesn’t explode)
- Eleventh hour
- Hush hush
- Kiwi (as a nickname for a New Zealander)
- No Man’s Land
- Push up the daisies
- Put a sock in it
- Shell shock
- Shoot down in flames
- Souvenir (borrowed from the French)
- Trench coat
- Trip wire
- Up against the wall
- War of Attrition
- Zero hour
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Updated: 15 October 2020
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