How Well Do You Know WWI Slang?

Robin Tyler

What was the slang term for a British soldier during World War I?

Germans would regularly shout to their English counterparts, "Hey, Tommy," during a lull in action. The full slang name was Tommy Atkins.

Pilots had a name for anti-aircraft fire that peppered the air around them while they were flying. What did they call it?

Legend has it pilots named the anti-aircraft guns after a popular song at the time, "Archibald, Certainly Not." It was popular in music halls.

Which country did the slang term "Blighty" refer to?

Records show that soldiers away from England and on active service used to refer to their country as Blighty.

What did the WWI slang term "storm trooper" refer to?

The German army operated storm trooper divisions. These highly trained soldiers were used to assault high-value enemy positions.

What slang term did British forces use for Germans?

The term "Hun" was certainly used in a derogatory way by the British troops to describe their German counterparts. It's a referenence to Attila the Hun.

What does the slang term "toot sweet" mean?

This is derived from a French term, ''tout de suite," which when literally translated means "all at once" or "right now." For example, "They attacked toot sweet."

What slang term was used to describe a fighter pilot who had shot down five or more enemy aircraft?

Air combat was difficult. Many pilots didn't survive past their first flight. Those that did and who went on to down enemy aircraft became heroes with the public back home. If you managed to down five enemies, you were considered an ace.

A "packet" was slang for what during World War I?

A "packet" was a negative term used in World War I. It usually meant a bullet or other flying missile, but was used to describe wounds as well.

What slang term did British forces use for Germans?

The term "Fritz" was certainly used in a derogatory way by the British troops to describe their German counterparts. It was derived from a popular German name at the time, Friedrich.

Non-critical wounds were given a name by English soldiers on the Western Front. What did they call them?

A wound that was small and not life threatening, but maybe enough to send a solder home, was called "cushy." Certainly nothing cushy about them, however!

British army soldiers referred to the sausages served in their rations as __________.

They were called "barkers." Some servicemen believed they were made from dog meat.

A severely wounded solider could be referred to as a basket case. Why?

The term referred to them been carried around in a basket, since that is what their body without limbs would fit in. Terrible.

What did it mean if someone was "doolally"?

Named after a mental asylum in Calcutta, India, a person who went "doolally" went mad. Not a good thing.

What slang term did British forces use for Germans?

Yet another slang term used by British forces to describe the Germans, this was shortened form of the French slang term "alboche" which roughly means "German cabbage head."

What did the term "Lucifer" refer to?

The term "Lucifer" was used for matches. This was a popular match brand at the time and the name just stuck.

What did it mean to go "over the top"?

Going "over the top" involved men leaving their trenches and attacking the enemy positions. This was the most dangerous thing to do during the war and attrition rates were high.

Men leaving their trenches to attack the enemy had to cross which area first?

No man's land was hell. Here, soldiers fell in the hundreds with bodies just left to rot, as it was impossible to retrieve them.

What does the term "potato masher" refer to?

German grenades were called potato mashers. They looked similar to the kitchen tool.

The term "zero hour" referred to what?

All attacks would take place at a certain oredetermined time. This was called "zero hour."

Any ideas as to what a "wooden overcoat" was?

Certainly, no soldier wanted to end up in a "wooden overcoat." That's a dark fashion term.

What did British pilots call their aircraft?

Kites fly... you get the rest! Let's go fly a kite.

What is a "thingumyjig"?

Many new pieces of equipment came to the front lines during the war - for instance, a periscope used to peer out of a trench. Many soldiers had never seen these things before and often would say, pass the "thingumyjig."

What slang term did British forces use for Germans?

This was yet another slang term used by British forces to describe the Germans. "Squarehead" referred to their square-shaped helmets.

Who did ordinary soldiers call "red tabs"?

Because officers in the British army had red tabs on their uniform collars, ordinary soldiers would call them "red tabs."

What slang term did soldiers use for a periscope?

A periscope, used to peek above the trenches, was known as a "perisher" to most soldiers. Notice that both words start with "peri."

Who were men of the "Order of the Bowler Hat"?

Men back in England wore bowler hats, so anyone who went home from the front was said to have joined the "Order of the Bowler Hat."

What did it mean if an fighter pilot "bounced" the enemy?

When a fighter pilot bounced the enemy he had come across them without them knowing he was there. The element of surprise is in his favor.

What was a unit doing if they performed a "recce"?

Before any combat was undertaken, both aerial and other "recces" were undertaken to access enemy strength. Think "reconnaissance."

What were "pear drops"?

A certain poisonous gas used by the Germans smelled like pears, hence the name. You certainly didn't want to breathe it too long.

What were "mufti"?

Anyone wearing civilian clothes was said to be wearing "mufti." It's from an Arabic word, meaning "free."

When a pilot shouted, "enemies at 12 o'clock," what did he mean?

Using the points on a watch, pilots would be able to communicate if they saw enemies. 12 o'clock was just ahead and 6 o'clock behind.

What did it mean when a solider said to his colleagues, "Everybody muck in"?

"Grub's up, everybody much in" loosely means that food is ready, everybody should eat.

What vehicle was a "hot cross bun"?

Thanks to the cross painted on it, an ambulance was commonly referred to as a "hot cross bun."

What was a "gong"?

Soldiers who received medals were said to be wearing "gongs." Not noisy ones, though.

Cigarettes were called ______ in the trenches?

A cigarette was simply called a "gasper" or a "fag." Interestingly, ordinary soldiers called them fags while officers called them gaspers.

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Image: Italian Army Photographers 1915-1918 via Wiki Commons

About This Quiz

Mud, blood, muck, rats, roaches, death and destruction.

The war to end all wars, as politicians called it, involved fighting on a scale never before seen in the world. It left many dead. It also left many maimed, scared for life, for mere inches of ground at a time.

Those men that returned were never quite the same again, not only remembering the horrors of war that they saw, but also the death of their friends right next to them.

Moving on from the doom and gloom, however, the First World War also gave us many slang terms that we still use today. Some others, we may have heard before but were never sure of the meaning. 

Well, in this quiz we explore those bits of slang that originated in the mud, muck and blood of the Western Front. Spoken by common soldiers and officers alike, this slang was used to convey certain meanings or even used to name things. 

But how many terms have you heard before, much less understand? Some are extremely easy to work out, while others will have you stumped, that's for sure. Just take your time and enjoy it! Good luck - batten down the hatches and do your best!

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