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Opinion: How World War I gave us ‘cooties’

French soldiers sing the national anthem at the beginning of World War I in August 1914. This "war to end all wars" might seem like ancient history, but it changed the world forever. It transformed the way war was fought, upended cultures and home life and stimulated innovations that affect us today. With more than 30 combatant nations and nearly 70 million men mobilized, World War I profoundly destabilized the international order. Look back at some of the war's key events.

Story highlights

  • Jonathan Lighter: World War I introduced slew of latest phrases into use to specific the turbulent time
  • “Cooties,” “tanks,” “doughboy”, “fed up,” “dud,” “trench warfare” and lots of extra, he says
  • Lighter says H.G. Wells invented most ominous phrase of all: “the atomic bomb”

The Brits referred to as it the “Great War.” To the Yanks, it was the “World War.” No one wished to assume there could possibly be a second. Though World War I, which started 100 years in the past subsequent month, devastated lives and landscapes, its impact on language was virtually paradoxically constructive. It spawned a whole lot of latest phrases and popularized scores of previous ones. Many of them survive at this time — there are “cooties,” “camouflage,” “scrounge” and “dud,” for instance — however many have misplaced their once-widely acknowledged associations with the battle that was hoped would “finish battle.”

Total battle, because the world twice came upon previously century, is a turbulent time. It is for language, too. As new considerations, new strategies, new applied sciences and new experiences multiply, vocabulary by necessity tries to maintain up.

Obscure previous phrases can get a brand new lease on life. World War I gave the English language new phrases as various as “blimp” and “Boches” and “satan canine” and even “D-Day.” It popularized navy slang like “doughboy” and “fed up.” It dragooned older phrases for wider software, reminiscent of “Yank” and “no-man’s land.”

Some phrases distinguished in 1914-18 have just about fallen from use. Others stay as well-known because the battle’s idealistic slogans, like H. G. Wells’ name for “a battle to finish wars” and Woodrow Wilson’s to make the world “secure for democracy.”

As a multilingual battle, it promptly enriched the English language with phrases of worldwide origin. Air reconnaissance made navy and naval “camouflage,” one other French phrase, a necessity. The identical may be mentioned of the French 75 cocktail, named for the battle’s handiest artillery piece. And historians writing in English nonetheless use the Gallic “poilu” for a French fight soldier and “Boches” for the Germans.
Older phrases and nicknames generally gained new recognition that assured they’d stay in English lengthy after troopers returned house. George M. Cohan’s smash hit “Over There” (1917) was the catchiest American patriotic track ever, and when he wrote that “The Yanks are coming,” he adopted the British, not the American, use of the Civil War time period to embody all Americans, north and south of the Mason-Dixon Line.
“Doughboy” was a brand new one on most individuals, but it surely had meant an infantryman because the Mexican-American War of the 1840s, for no very clear motive; now, it is the standard synonym for the American soldier of the First World War. “Leatherneck,” which additionally regarded new however wasn’t, denoted the U.S. Marine, whose 19th-century uniform had featured a excessive leather-based collar that sailors ridiculed.
Opinion: How a century-old battle impacts you

A Wisconsin newspaper claimed in 1918 that the Germans thought American Marines fought like Teufelhunden, or “satan canines”; the supposedly German phrase sounds ersatz, however the English model remains to be heard within the Corps. (Sailors had been “gobs”; fliers had been “birdmen”; buddies had been “buddies”: all pre-war, all actually mainstream for the primary time in 1914-18.) “G.I.,” which meant solely “galvanized iron” and “authorities subject” in World War I, ultimately turned the World War II time period for a U.S. soldier.

The on a regular basis lifetime of these troopers spawned many phrases and expressions. When youngsters speak of “cooties,” they do not notice what everybody knew by 1918: It was a brand new time period for lice, which burrowed into the garments of any and all who served on the entrance strains. “Chow,” for meals, owes its recognition largely to the U.S. navy of World War I. From the British got here the expressions “to scrounge” (to seek for and, if crucial, pilfer), “comfortable” (enviably comfy) and “fed up” (disgusted with all of it), three salient soldier ideas in any battle.

Trench warfare turned a sinister science, as front-line troops of each military hunkered down for a whole lot of miles in circumstances of appalling filth and hazard. Playwright George Bernard Shaw, an opponent of the battle, popularized the once-uncommon phrase “cannon fodder,” which recommended that troopers of all nations had been impersonally requisitioned to feed the weapons or duped into enlisting by interchangeably imperialist rulers.

To identify what lay between the entrenched armies, trendy English enlisted a phrase from the Middle Ages: “no-man’s land.” The shell-pocked muck between the opposing trenches, bounded by rotting sandbags and rusted heaps of barbed wire, gave the 14th-century that means of “unowned or uninhabited territory” a a lot grimmer connotation.

Before World War I, a “dud” was something or anyone unsatisfactory, however by the point the battle ended, “dud” referred mainly to an unexploded shell or bomb, because it does to today. The British started talking of defensive “foxholes,” dug not by foxes however by troopers on the battlefield, a phrase that now could seem as previous as capturing wars themselves.

The adjustment of a rifle’s battle-sight was “zeroing in,” a metaphor at this time’s English cannot do with out. Then there’s “D-Day”: the very first was September 26, 1918, the beginning date of the war-ending Allied offensive within the Argonne Forest.

Familiar now as an promoting platform, the helium-filled “blimp” was invented for naval commentary in 1915. The British got here up with the armored “tank” and named it arbitrarily to maintain the weapon secret earlier than its shock look within the Battle of the Somme in 1916.

The menace of “chemical warfare” and “chemical weapons” had been mentioned within the press, however their precise use by Germany in 1915, first in Poland after which in Belgium, raised the battle’s quotient of barbarism. The Allies rapidly adopted go well with. “Air raids,” which started on a small scale in 1914, had been carried out by four-winged bombers and German Zeppelins.

The concept of bomb-laden squadrons of Zeppelins over London could seem to be one thing from Victorian science fiction, and it was novelist H.G. Wells (creator of “War of the Worlds”) who invented probably the most ominous phrase of all.

In 1914, he imagined a tool which may seem inside a technology, whose damaging energy would change every part ceaselessly. Wells warned that ultimately “any little physique of malcontents may use it.” As although in prophecy of the lengthy shadow the 1914-18 battle would forged on the 20th century, Wells coined a now-familiar time period for his imaginary superweapon that he believed may simply “wreck half a metropolis.”

He referred to as it “the atomic bomb.”

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