Thursday, April 06, 2006

April 6: Word War I Words

Today is the anniversary of the United States' entry into World War I. The Great War had begun in Europe in 1914, and it raged on until November 17, 1919, the date we honor each year as Veterans Day.

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

Here is a sample of the WWI words from Speaking Freely: A Guided Tour of American English (Stuart Berg Flexner and Anne H. Soukhanov, Oxford University Press, 1997).

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

DOGFIGHT: an air battle between two planes.

GOLDBRICK: this term first refered to a second lieutenant, whose rank insignia is a rectanglular gold bar. Because many of these officers were appointed from civilian life, without training or experience, the term became one of derision, refering 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!

World War I was not the only war to contribute significantly to the English lexicon. Match up the words below to the war from which they were popularized. For more words, see Fighting Words: From War, Rebellion, and Other Combative Capers by Christine Ammer (Paragon House 1989).

1. brainwash
2. turn coat
3. skedaddle
4. boondocks
5. MIA
6. Dear John letter

A. Revolutionary War
B. Civil War
C. Spanish-American War
D. World War II
E. Korean War
F. Vietnam War

Answers: 1. E 2. A 3. B 4. C 5. F 6. D

Quote of the Day: War is fear cloaked in courage. --William Westmoreland

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