Jasper Copping lists a surprising number of words that entered the civilian language thanks to the linguistic creativity of soldiers in the trenches during the First World War:
If you’re feeling washed out, fed up or downright lousy, World War One is to blame.
New research has shown how the conflict meant that hundreds of words and phrases came into common parlance thanks to the trenches.
Among the list of everyday terms found to have originated or spread from the conflict are cushy, snapshot, bloke, wash out, conk out, blind spot, binge drink and pushing up daisies.
The research has been conducted by Peter Doyle, a military historian, and Julian Walker, an etymologist, who have analysed thousands of documents from the period — including letters from the front, trench newspapers, diaries, books and official military records — to trace how language changed during the four years of the war.
They found that the war brought military slang into the mainstream, imported French and even German words to English and saw words from local dialects become part of national conversation.
It was a “world” war, so the linguistic additions came from further afield than Belgium or France:
Several Hindi terms, picked up from Indian Army soldiers and already circulating in the regular, professional army, were also disseminated widely.
One of those most used at the front was “cushy” — from khush (‘pleasure’).
Soldiers would describe cushy, or comfortable billets, as well as cushy trenches, in quiet sectors.
The most well known term derived from Hindi though was “Blighty”, from bilati, meaning “foreign”, which, when applied by Indians to Britons, came to be perceived by Indian Army servicemen as the term “British”.
Words even entered the lexicon from the trenches opposite. “Strafe” became an English word, from the German “to punish”, via a prominent slogan used by the enemy: “Gott Strafe England”, while prisoners of war returned with term “erzatz”, literally “replacement”, but used in English to mean “cheap substitute” and spelled ersatz.