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Trench Lingo

By March 3, 2014December 15th, 2021No Comments

The language used in the WWI trenches combined humour and understatement. Many of the words are still in use today, and have become part of the Aussie lingo eg:
Kip:  to sleep
Clobber:  clothing (from Yiddish)
Cold feet:  fear
Cakehole:  mouth
Dead soldier:  empty beer bottle
Kaput:  finished, broken (from German)
Thunderbox:  toilet
Howler:  a big mistake

Many slang words were anglicised French, Hindustani or Arabic words eg:
Dooly, doolay:  milk (from French du lait)
Char:   tea (from Hindustani cha, chai)
Japan:   bread (from French du pain)
Rooti:   bread (from Hindustani roti)
Erf, oof:  egg (from French oeuf)
Tray beans:  very well (from French tres bien)
Tray bong:  very good (from French tres bon)
Umpty poo:  a little bit more  (from French un petit peu)

Other terms of interest include:
(Axle) grease:  butter (a rare treat in the trenches)
Babbler:  a cook (from rhyming slang, babbling brook)
Bangalore torpedo:  a length of sheet steel folded like a drainpipe and stuffed with explosive to blow a path through barbed wire
Banjo:  a shovel
Bantam, Banty:  a short soldier
Big Bertha:  a long range German gun (from Bertha Krupp, heiress to the industrial dynasty that owned Germany’s biggest manufacturer of munitions)
Billy Wells:  heavy artillery (from Billy Wells, an English soldier who was a champion heavyweight boxer)
Chats, Crabs:  lice
Chat bags:  underpants
Vermijelli:  a mixture of oil, soap and water used for killing chats
Chin parade:  an inspection to check if men had shaved properly
Choker:  a cigarette
Daisies:  boots (from rhyming slang, daisy roots)
Egg:  a hand grenade
Exasperator:   a respirator gas mask – awkward to fit, awkward to wear
Flying matinee:  a trench raid carried out in daylight
Fruit salad:  two or more rows of medal ribbons worn on the tunic
Gut’s horn:  the bugle call that announced meal times
Hard tack, dog biscuit:  Army ration biscuit, sometimes used as kindling
Soft tack:  bread
Iron ration:  a tinned meal and four dog biscuits
Mother, Grandma, Granny:  all purpose nickname for a British heavy gun
Paint:  jam
Pig’s ear:  beer (from rhyming slang)
Pill:  a bomb dropped from an aircraft
Pipsqueak:  a rifle grenade
Sling the bat, parlay the bat:  to talk the language of the native population (from French parlar, to talk, and Hindustani bat, language)
Wet rations:  mud
Wooden overcoat:  coffin

Signalese  was the language used by Army signallers; a coded alphabet which became a part of Army vernacular:
A Ack
B Beer
D Don
M Emma
P Pip
S Esses
T Toc
V Vic
Toc Emma = TM = trench mortar
Emma Gee = MG = machine gun
Ack Emma = AM = morning

Aussie, Digger:  an Australian
Belgie:  a Belgian
Byng boy, Canuck:  a Canadian
Boche, Fritz, Jerry, Hun:  a German
Doughboy, Yank:  an American soldier
Frog, Froggie:  a French person
Fernleaf:  a New Zealander
Ivan:  a Russian
Jock:  a Scot
Tommy:  a British soldier

* Moore, Christopher 2012, Roger, sausage & whippet: a miscellany of trench lingo from the Great War, Headline, London, UK.