Thursday, 24 January 2013

Trench Talk, Words of the First World War



Trench Talk, Words of the First World War  is a richly documented book by military historian Peter Doyle and etymologyst-artist Julian Walker, published by Spellmount (Stroud, 2012). The publication details the terms that have originated from WWI (binge, bloke, guff, fed up, snapshot…) have found their way through military slang into everyday conversation.

“Fought on three continents, the war saw 14 million killed and 34 million wounded. Its impact shaped the world we live in today, and the language of the trenches continues to live in the modern consciousness.”

Belgian refugees and related entries feature in the book, not least because of Julian Walker’s affiliation to Valentines Mansion in Ilford. This is the playground as well where Pat Heron used to work, before she sadly passed away in the Autumn of 2011. Pat's website is still online and her publication on Belgians in Ilford, ‘Guests of the Nation’, is still available.

Belgian attitudes towards the German Kaiser, or the Big Willie, were “typified by the actions of a group of Belgian refugees in Ilford, East London: they rounded off their Christmas in 1914 with a performance described in the Ilford Guardian as ‘Making the funeral with the Kaiser from Germany’ (p.23).

During WWI "flag days became associated with the giving of small paper flags on pins in return for charitable donations", such as the Belgian Relief Fund. (p.70)

However, not only does Trench Talk contain entries in which Belgian refugees play an important part, references to Belgium abound (p. 16 ‘children in Belgium and France live in an atmosphere of Tommy’s slang’, p. 17 ‘A Word of Words’, p.22 the ‘Scrap of Paper’, p. 24 on Atrocity…).

You can find reviews of the book through

In the Linkedin group ‘EFL - English as a Foreign Language’, a discussion group looks into WW1’s Effects on the English Language. Another similar thread can be found and Trench Talk is included in ESL lessons on NewsFlashEnglish too. 

Trench Talk, which made the Foreign Office MinisterialReading List 2012, is listed in the bibliography held by the Internation Society of First World War Studies (University of Birmingham), category 2 – general

Julian Walker has a website. You can follow Prof. Peter Doyle on Twitter too.

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