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:"This puts the tin hat on it!" Donald MacGill,
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This review is from: Trench Talk: Words of the First World War (Hardcover)
As a response to Partridge & Brophy's Dictionary of Songs and Slang The Daily Telegraph Dictionary of Tommies' Songs and Slang 1914-18, a reprint to a pioneering 30 year study, Peter Doyle & Julian Walker have compiled together an ex-novo glossary of terms from a multitude of original sources from the home: national dailies and weeklies, and the fighting front: regimental and trench papers, personal diaries, and familiar (Graves Goodbye to All That (Twentieth Century Classics), Remarque All Quiet on the Western Front, and Sassoon Memoirs of an Infantry Officer) and not so-known postwar memoirs, including Pte Alfred Burrrage (Artists' Rifles) War is War (1930) and Charles Carrington (Royal Warwicks) A Subaltern's War (1929) written under the pseudonym of Charles Edmonds A Subalterns War.
It is published in a light, portable, customer friendly-looking 254 page manual, split into eleven thematic chapters of twenty-thirty pages, with useful quotations from the sources printed in white on grey which stand out well from the general explanations of the individual concepts in black on white.
The book is like a sandwich: the chapters acting as the filler, between an introduction explaining how words change in time (how "being Stellenbosched", from the Boer War took on the French "dégommé" ie being relieved of one's command, translated as "coming ungummed", which evolved into "coming unstuck"), some surviving ("souvenir" replacing "keepsake"; while "binge" previously a Lancashire dialect expression meaning to soak, as well as "blotto", and "plastered" widened their meanings nationally for to get drunk, and are still in current general use), others falling into disuse over time, and the possible reasons why Great War veterans chose to keep the long silence of trench experiences to members of their family and other civilians.
Of the three answers, two are immediately plausible: the inability to explain to outsiders the real atrocities, and the fear that such tales would be considered either as self-adulation -something which no veteran ever believes in, and was not deemed socially acceptable, or to criticize the powers that be, and far from being then thought as victims, they feared being tarnished as malingerers, showing all the symptoms of the "Conchies" and idle profiteers, with "lack of moral fibre". The third reason caused by the emergency powers act, DORA, forbidding revealing information in Wartime, simply legalised that which was believed was right by that generation, may seem odd to subsequent generations. Until the publication of the first books about Bletchley Park at the end of the 1970s, contravening the Official Secrets' Act, there was a belief that any spoken or a written promise was like marriage, a contract for life and to be respected. Times like nations, their people, and their language all change.
Among the words the authors list 30 different expressions for dying, including "buzzed" (from sending a phone message on the "buzzer", "napoo" (the adaptation from the French il n'y en a plus for there isn't any more), "skittled", "snottered", and "finee", and excludes the five official terms that appeared in the telegrams: "fell" (since the 16th century), "made the supreme sacrifice", "gave their lives", "killed in action" (KIA), and "died of wounds" (DoW). Nothing strange here as death in Flanders, Mespot, and Gallipoli was so common as snow in the polar regions where Eskimos have over 40 words for that white watery crystalline substance.
The Tommies and officers visiting MOs were found to be "whacked", "done", "puddled" (confused), "ditty" (crazed), exhausted with sleep-deprivation, and might receive a "number 9", for anything dubious, which was memorable for its laxative effects! They have a complete page of alternative terms for the tank including a "caterpillar", a "landship", or a "land ironclad" (a term first concocted by HG Wells in 1903 in one of his short stories), with the press choosing to describe it as a "touring fort", a "whale", an "old Ichthyosauraus", and naturally to spark off greater interest and imagination a "hush-hush". For the bad boys there are 12 different words for prison: the most amusing consist of the "opera-house" -which was a posh sounding "glass-house" (both terms of prewar origin), and "hutch, mush and moosh", with two additional imports from America, from 1918 with "cooler" and "boob".
The double act of a military historian and one etymologist gave the official, and the unofficial meaning of the medals and decorations. When the men spoke of Pip, Squeak and Wilfred after the Daily Mirror cartoon characters, or Gieves, Matthew and Seagrove from naval outfitters, they were reminiscing on those mates in Sir John French's Old Contemptible "Little Army" who fought at Loos and received the 1914-15 Star, and the remainders who lived beyond November 1918 and received the War Medal with yellow and blue ribbon, and the Victory Medal. Instead when a "Dick Shot Off" was quietly muttered it may have been because they remembered a "knut", an upper class subaltern twit similar to Lt George (Hugh Laurie) in Black Adder Blackadder 4 - Blackadder Goes Forth - The Entire Historic Fourth Series  [DVD], or their "starie chelevek" or old man (the CO) who had been awarded the DSO, which like the OBE they felt the top brass awarded to themselves or to their officer friends for other b_____ers efforts. That is why it was still considered a "lovely war" for them!Oh! What a Lovely War: The Special Collector's Edition [DVD] 
Unlike other similar publications Doyle and Walker have widened the scope by working through Graff & Bormann's Schwere Brocken, 1000 Worte Fronte-Deutsch (1925) to show that there were many similarities in language change even in German, or in Fritz's trench with their own adoption of French sounding expressions to become fralemand rather than franglais. There were also common terms across the front, showing a common cultural and situational heritage among fighting men: poor margarine referred to as "axelgrease", became "Wagenschmiere" or wagongrease in the other camp; the English "foot slogger" involved in heavy marches across all types of terrain became "Fusslatscher" (foot-shuffler), and the more graphic "Kilometerfresser" (kilometre-glutton), and "Dreckfresser" (mud-glutton); the terms Stilhandgranate or "Potato masher", and the Taube, short for the Rumpler Taube or monoplane with swept-back wings were all used by Tommy, Fritz and the French Poilu, the latter even a synonym for flugzeug.
Furthermore, the Germans, which the authors described using a gallows' humour, enjoying making fun of their own corps and units by renaming them in their down-to-earth fashion: the FAK; the Volunteer Automobile Corps became Fährt Alles Kaput or Everything goes kaput, or the Machine-gun company or MGK became the Mord-gesellsdchaft Klub or Murder company club. It dismisses the British stereotype that a German joke is no-joke; it is, except it can not be compared with British humour.
Because the Great War has become an important section in the school curriculum the authors, assisted by a longer time span, were able to balance both the serious bloody features of the killing with the comical human stories, and with original illustrations and memorabilia - silk post cards, photos, cartoons, pages from diaries, and short verses of songs or poems will help in making school history lessons become more real and come alive. Especially if official Intelligence Summaries are seen to be referred to as "comic cuts". The upside is that it transposes historical events with contemporary wit of Punch of yesteryear right up to Curtis & Elton's Black Adder; the downside is that poorer students, and those still learning the subject will be further burdened between understanding and distinguishing the facts, from the faction and the fictions.
On the other hand, the book is far from perfect in the space provided for this light manual. There is no explanation for the choice of terms; whether they were general, or used in a single publication, in a particular unit, or the ideolect of a single fighter-writer. Neither do the authors give a percentage of those selected still in use, when they ceased to appear in traditional dictionaries or glossaries with the same meanings (such as the officers' blue lamp rather than the ORs' "red lamp" and not "red light" houses), and they do not give the origins to all expressions first taken by the troops to the front. For instance, after an explanation of the identity disc, and the term "dog tag", the authors end with the comment that they were known by the grimly ironic name of "cold meat ticket" without mentioning that the new term was in fact an English expression transported across the Atlantic which then returned to Europe with the arrival of the US "Dough boys" of the AEF in 1918, and the grimness mentioned is because it recalls cadavers hanging up like frozen animal carcases in slaughterhouses.
The book has one small irritating problem since one can not properly identify the bibliography the authors have used. However, the most serious problem for users is they did not even place the individual items in alphabetical order in the chapters, and not all the words or expressions found n the chapters reappear in the index. That can create confusion, and a loss of time for anyone who has not read the entire text from cover to cover from the outset.
Interested readers and teachers should be advised to adopt both Partridge & Brophy and this volume, as each compliment the other, and together they each give a little something extra, or as the postcard impressionist Donald MacGill would have remarked in 1916:"This puts the tin hat on it!" or "C'est ça qui vous complete un homme!". Alone its value and success depends a lot on the knowledge of the reader. The test of a good dictionary isn't if it looks good, but if the user gets what s/he wants quickly and then is more informed and not confused.
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Showing 1-3 of 3 posts in this discussion
Initial post: 10 Jan 2013 17:25:00 GMT
What an odd review. The reviewer has clearly read the book - and quotes it to an excessive degree - yet fails to understand that it is not intended to be a dictionary, even after describing the book's structure. He states that terms have been excluded from the text, and then goes on to quote them as they appear in the book. And he seems to be muddled between `biography' and `bibliography'. Weird.
In reply to an earlier post on 12 Jan 2013 09:20:51 GMT
mangilli-climpson m says:
I am not certain if this commentator has in fact read the book, though I shall grant him that. I am under the impression that he may have read it through a mirror, and so saw everything back to front, and explains for his describing the content of the review "excessive", "odd" and "weird".
No, I repeat it is incorrect to say that the reviewer failed to understand that the book should not be treated as a dictionary. It IS in every sense a glossary which predominantly covers dialectal expressions, as well as that which applied linguists call sociolects, tradelects and ideolects of the Armed Forces in the trenches during the 1914-18 War. Even the title with the term "words" indicates that. The excessive description of the type of examples used explains this, and was intended in such a manner to allow any customer to know how the work is organised.
This book is comparable with the pioneering dictionary by Partridge & Brophy, now reprinted by Pen & Sword, which the compilers cite. I suspect the History Press attempted to kill two birds in one clean scoop by publishing a brand new product that successfully rivals one of its competitors, and which bridges the ever expanding military history market and that of the more specialized history of language. That, and the information of similar language adoptions
In German, would be its real PR novelty for the centenary celebrations of the Great War in 2014.
If Bookcase has had direct contact with the compilers themselves, and has learnt that the Trench Talk was NOT intended as a dictionary, then I am sorry, I fear as he claims I did not understand the purpose of the book, and so have been too generous with my current evaluation by as much as one star. I can only evaluate it for how it looks, and in the manner students and teachers will gain from it.
Finally, Bookcase was able to easily comprehend that the term "bibliography" without the "bli" and written as "biography" in a particular context still meant bibliography. I thank the commentator for pointing the mix-up of terms and consequently has since been corrected. Such oversights do occur to humans when carrying out quick re-reading. Careful, however. I hope the added term "muddled" was simply used as a strong worded adjective to accentuate the commentator's less than impartial opinion of the weird, awry review, and not purposely chosen to those who have different opinions and sign themselves with foreign sounding surnames! That would be most unfortunate.
In reply to an earlier post on 14 Jan 2013 09:38:44 GMT
Peter Doyle says:
For 'Bookcase' read 'Julian Walker', and for 'Peter Doyle' read 'Peter Doyle' - both of us are in a unique position to comment upon the development and writing of our own book.
My co-author's comment that the review is 'weird' reflects the fact that the reviewer clearly is 'muddled' in his/her views (to which he/she is clearly entitled). The review congratulates the book for its scope, quoting large parts of it, then damns if for not being a dictionary. It never was a dictionary. (If the reader wishes to look for a specific word, we have provided an Index). We wanted the book to be readable, and to place the terms in related chapters, so that the reader has some conception of the many words used by the combatants for similar things. Artillery fire, death and dying, trenches, etc, etc.
We do thank the reviewer for posting the review, but find the rating out of kilter with its content (even more so with the downgrade threatened by the reviewer in the light of the challenge to his/her review). Such things matter. We do take exception to the slight at the end of the last comment by the reviewer. Our focus is trans-European, with our intention an international conference on 'trench talk' on all fronts sometime in 2014. As such we take any suggestions of xenophobia very seriously indeed. However, I can accept that this may not have been intentional.
In short: we thank most of our reviewers for their positive comments, who accept this book not as a dry dictionary, but as a commentary on the rich language of the frontline soldier.
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