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I lead workshops at the British Library, on literature, language, art, history, and the culture of the book; and teach the history of printing at other institutions. I research language usage during the First World War, and lead the Languages and the First World War project. Author of Discovering Words, Discovering Words in the Kitchen, Evolving English Explored, Team Talk - sporting words & their origins, Trench Talk - the Language of the First World War (with Peter Doyle); How to Cure the Plague; The Finishing Touch; and Words and the First World War. As an artist I work in performance, public engagement, and intervention using drawing, curating, text, changing things and embroidery.


Friday, 13 March 2015

Two versions of Archie, and some others

A handful of notable entries from post-First World War dictionaries. First, from Cassell's New English Dictionary 1919:
Frigo - (Soldiers' slang) Frozen or chilled meat
Huff (Airman's slang) - to kill
To Lusitania - (slang) to torpedo (esp. a large passenger-ship) 

All of these usages have disappeared I assume, though 'huffing' is still a term used in draughts (does anyone play draughts still?). The days are thankfully past when anyone would have occasion to 'Lusitania', and even gallows humour scarcely excuses it. But I did laugh out loud when I saw 'frigo' - definitely one for the slang counter at Iceland.

Cassell's also has an interesting definition for 'Archie' - actually 'Archies':

[nickname from the popular song, 'Archibald, certainly not',' with allusion to the fewness of the hits made], n.pl. (Soldiers' slang) Anti-aircraft guns or shells; the anti-aircraft force.

And in Collins' Etymological Dictionary (1922) there is:

Archies n.pl. the anti-aircraft force; also, the guns and shells. The name is said to have been given, owing to the fewness of the hits, from the song, "Archibald, certainly not." 

Rather different from the version given by Ernest Weekley in his An Etymological Dictionary of Modern English (1921): 

Archibald, Archie: “It was at once noticed at Brooklands [where much aviation development and testing was carried out prior to 1914, and portrayed in the film Those Magnificent Men in their Flying Machines] that in the vicinity of, or over, water or damp ground, there were disturbances in the air causing bumps or drops to these early pioneers. Some of these ‘remous’ were found to be permanent, one over the Wey river, and another at the corner of the aerodrome next to the sewage-farm. Youth being fond of giving proper names to inanimate objects, the bump near the sewage-farm was called by them Archibald. As subsequently, when war broke out, the effect of having shell bursting near an aeroplane was to produce a ‘remous’ reminding the Brookland trained pilots of their old friend Archibald, they called being shelled ‘being Archied’ for short. Any flying-man who trained at Brooklands before the war will confirm the above statement” (Col. C H Joubert de la Ferté, I M S ret.).
A few more details and thoughts, first posted on the Languages and the First World War website last year:
Col. Charles Henry Joubert de la Ferté, of the Indian Medical Service was 68 when the war broke out, and lived in Weybridge, where Brooklands is located. Brooklands had been in use for at least 7 years by this time - A V Roe and Tommy Sopwith both tested planes there. Whether the term was picked up from the song or whether the song reinforced the chosen word is difficult to determine without more evidence, but it is not impossible that aviators, on being shot at, would express words to the effect that whatever was coming towards them was certainly not as harmless as the warm air rising from a sewage farm.

So, 'Archie' for the shellfire, and 'Archies' for those who sent it up all seems reasonable. But which way were aviators trying to comfort themselves, either by claiming the enemy were not good shots, or by claiming that they were as harmless as hot air?  Or, to put it another way, were they just crap shots, or were they just crap?

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