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The Australian National University

Languages

For further information on the following aspects of language that feature prominently in the Glossary:

 

Arabic

Many Australian soldiers served in the Middle East, most famously fighting in Turkey at Gallipoli. Their experience there, especially being stationed in Egypt, led to a number of corruptions of Arabic words entering the Aussie soldiers' 'slanguage'. Some of these include, Andy Macnoon, filoosh, imshee, and maleesh. Some Arabic terms had already entered the English language through the British presence in the Middle East from the nineteenth century, for example, bint, which was current from 1855 and igaree, from the late nineteenth century.

French

Australian soldiers in France used a lot of terms in their 'slanguage' that derived from French. Mostly, they were based on corrupt/jocular pronunciations of French, for example gas-gong for 'garcon', meaning 'boy'. Most Australian soldiers would have had little or no knowledge or experience of France, and would at best only pick up a rudimentary knowledge of the French language while serving there. Some of the terms revealed the frustration of the war: the poignant apres la guerre and bucks bombardy. Napoo, meaning 'finished' came to be applied, according to Brophy and Partridge, to 'all the destructions, obliterations and disappointments of war'. Some were less suggestive of the frustrations of war, but merely reflected the way in which soldiers had to adapt to life in France: for example, the term oncks for the French currency francs, and cat-sou, quatre-sous. The latter was the price of a drink at a French estaminet (pub).

Other French terms included in the glossary are:

alley bookoo buckoo beans common-tally-plunk comme si, comme sa compree coushay finny mercy blow through parley party peut-etre say-pah toot-sweet vent a tair

Hindustani and Hindi

The terms that found their way into the Australian soldiers' slang in World War I from these languages were current in British services' slang from the nineteenth century. Britain had possession of India as part of her empire and the British stationed there picked up a number of Hindi and Hindustani words, most of which were subsequently corrupted. Hindustani is the language based on the Hindi dialect of the Delhi region with an admixture of Arabic, Persian, etc' and spoken in much of northern India and Pakistan. Hindi includes the 'Indo-aryan dialects of the Indian subcontinent', and has Sanskrit-based vocabulary and Devanagari script. The terms borrowed from the languages of the area include atcha, bat, bolo, and buckshee, all British army and dating from the nineteenth century. Base wallah and cushy were first recorded in World War I. Pukka is an older Anglo-Indian term, dating back to 1776.

Rhyming slang

Rhyming slang is largely associated with London, but has enjoyed great currency in Australia. According to Green, it first developed in the early decades of the nineteenth century. A small number of rhyming-slang based terms crop up in the glossary.

Some were already current in Australian English and were adapted to wartime conditions. For example, babbler, current from 1904 (babbling brook=cook) was applied specifically to an Army cook.

Terms that were not adapted, but used widely by the troops included giddy for 'boy scout' (giddy gout=scout) and Oscar for 'cash (Oscar Asche=cash). These were both Australian. Gay and frisky for 'whiskey' was British rhyming slang, current from the late nineteenth century.

Others were wartime innovations: disaster for piastre (an Egyptian currency); Pork and cheese for the Portuguese troops.

Further reading:

Jonathan Green Cassell's Rhyming Slang Cassell and Company, London, 2000.

Flying slang

The innovations of the inroductions aeroplanes for more general use, and for military purposes in World War I led to a number of terms being introduced into the English language. The glossary contains a number of them: some were pre-World War I terms, others were Royal Flying Corps innovations.

One of the most widely known and subsequently widespread terms was ace for a pilot successful in shooting down large numbers of the enemy planes. Sit on the tail also remains popular.

Technical terms like bank, stalling, taxi, flip, nose dive, and flatspin were innovations with the advent of aviation and are still in use.

Other flying terms used in World War I include: beer-pull, blind-spot, bus, and split. They do not appear to have had much currency beyond the war.

Partridge has pointed out that the RFC and its successor, the RAF, have contributed the smallest amount of lexical innovations of the Services, although he does stress that they are 'no less virile and picturesque and amusing'. He particularly notes that the RFC contributed only a very small amount. It should also be pointed out that none of these terms are distinctively Australian, or were contributed by the Australian Flying Corps. However, the glossary focuses on AIF slang, and appended to the glossary is a list of Australian Flying Corps terms. Most of this AFC slang was short-lived but provides a useful addition to the AIF slang and show that the Flying Corps were also important lexical innovators.

Flying Corps Glossary

Further reading:

Eric Partridge A Dictionary of RAF Slang Pavilion Books, London, 1990 (1945).

Guns and shells

The glossary contains many names applied to the variety of heavy guns, shells, and ammunition that Australians became all too intimately familiar with during the Great War. Many of these names were humorous, and part of an attempt to make light of the obviously fearful reality of the battlefield, a psychological necessity.

Some of these names were particular to certain guns: for example Beachy Bill was a name applied to the Turkish guns firing on the troops at Gallipoli and mentioned in the C.E.W. Bean-edited Anzac Book (1915). This term was one, for obvious reasons, primarily used by and of significance to the Aussies. Some were ironically applied, like Gentle Annie to the German howitzer that fired on Australian troops in France, and Grandma, the first British howitzer at Ypres. Jericho Jane was a Turkish gun that fired on Australian troops in Palestine in 1918.

Names sometimes derived from the appearance or noises made by the shells: for example, flaming onions, flying pig, Lazy Lizz (from the lazy droning sound it made), mouth-organ, pineapple, pip-squeak, rum-jar, and whiz bang. Others were more suggestive of the destructive power of the war's technology: flying incinerator, and gezumpher. Plum pudding was a name ironically applied to one type of shell - suggesting the gifts that the Australian troops received from the Germans!

Bertha, also known as Big Bertha, was famous among the Allied Forces for the German heavy guns and was named after Bertha Krupp, owner of the Krupp steelworks that produced them. It remains one of the best known nicknames for a gun.

Some of these terms were more general, and there is evidence of them carrying on into World War II - for example, archie, for anti-aircraft artillery. Shooting-iron, defined in the glossary as being applied to an 18 pounder field piece, was widely used from the eighteenth century to apply to any firearm.

Other names for guns and shells included: heavies, iron foundry, 75, 77, Percy, and Quick Dick.

Two-up

Baker, in his The Australian Language (1966 ed.), writes that two-up was present in the earliest days of the New South Wales colony. The game spawned many terms, some of which are included in this glossary. The game was played enthusiastically by Australian soldiers (keen to bet on pretty much anything) and has been identified both as quintessentially Australian and with the veteran 'Digger'. The glossary includes a definition of two-up.

The following description is borrowed from Baker:

'The centre [the central part of the ring where bets are taken, defined differently in the glossary as the amount of money placed in the bets] has now been set and bets made on the side between various players, and all is ready for the spin. Up to now the two pennies have been lying on the floor, tails up. The ringie picks up these coins and places them, again tail uppermost, on what is known as the bat, kip, stick or kylie, a thin and light piece of (preferably hardwood) board, such as cedar, but wood from a cigar box is often chosen...

The ringie now calls "Come in, spinner!" or "Fair go, spinner!" or "Up and do 'em!" and the spinner makes his toss. The toss is generally required to be at least eight or ten feet high...

When the pennies fall, the ringie identifies them as heads or tails or ones (although bettors will have already seen this themselves), then turns them tail up once again in the guts while the next bets are made'.

A number of phrases, often used in a two-up context, are included in the glossary, including 'come in on the grouter', heads are right and spin in rough. Kip (Australian from 1887) and nob (a double-headed penny current from 1903) were earlier two-up terms. Micks meanings 'tails' entered Australian English through the war experience, as did set which came to have the broader meaning of 'fixed, arranged' and tailie, who is a man who backs tails.

Further reading:

Sidney J. Baker The Australian Language Sun Books, Melbourne, 1966 (1945).

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