About Me

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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.


Tuesday, 30 June 2015

Another English to French term

An article in The Times 31 March 1915, under the heading 'Trench Slang, New French Terms', gives a few examples of French trench slang. The Times generally avoided using English trench slang, though at least one of its writers admitted that using such terms was 'inevitable' (20 April 1915).

The list given includes the term 'boche', stating that 'it was hardly known before the war, though allboche, of which it is an abbreviation, was fairly common.'

The final paragraph lists some trench journal titles including the following:
Another founded recently is the Télé-Mèle, which is produced by a section of telegraphists, and borrows its title, with altered spelling, from the Daily Mail.

Strong evidence of the extent to which British newspapers circulated at the Front, and behind the lines, and the extent to which a particular newspaper might be circulating more than others. What was the nature of the satire, if satire was there, in using the name of a British newspaper, even one particular newspaper? Certainly there is an inference that it would be recognised. And if so, what were they saying about the Daily Mail?

Tuesday, 23 June 2015

More words adopted into French from English 1914-18

Following on from Albert Dauzat’s collection of words adopted into French during the Great War, here are some collected by Eric Partridge (from Words, Words, Words!’ 1933):

Pouloper: to gallop, from the English ‘pull up’, so a complete reversal of meaning in the course of the transfer.
Bath: in the phrase ‘c’est bath’, from the fashionable reputation of Bath, so meaning ‘great’, or as Partridge puts it ‘It’s tip-top’. Allied to this is ‘c’est palace’, meaning the same, and appearing in the phrase ‘nous allons être palaces’ = ‘we’re in for a cushy time’.
Sops: planes, from Sopwith, cf ‘taube’ for German planes.
Finish: meaning ‘there’s no more’, so presumably adopted as a mirror of the anglicisation ‘finee’.
Strafer: taken from the British adoption of the German strafen, so a bounced on adoption.
Coltar: wine (coal tar).
Afnaf: ‘either not too well pleased, or satisfied, or else exhausted. Wonderfully imitative of the cockney “’arf ’n ’arf”.
Olrède: say it with a French accent, and it comes out ‘alright’.
Lorry: with the plural ‘lorrys’.

Partridge does not give his sources, which is sad, but presumably he was transcribing ‘afnaf’ and ‘olrède’ from speech. The Académie Française would have had a fit.

Sunday, 21 June 2015

First World War words adopted from English into French

Well known are the words that were adopted from French into English during the First World War. Some were fairly simple exchanges, new words for old: ‘coupon’ pushed ‘ticket’ aside, ‘moral’ became ‘morale’, and ‘souvenir’ was souvenired, making ‘keepsake’ look decidedly old-fashioned. Otherwise we would recognise the French words from which ‘finee’, ‘compree’, and ‘tray bon’ come, via anglicised pronunciation. Some picked up some very English wordplay in their travel across the Channel: ‘tout de suite’ became ‘toot the sweet’, and gained the after-comment ‘and the tooter the sweeter’.

Less well known in the UK are the words that the French adopted from English, in some cases, joyously, reclaiming words adopted from French centuries earlier. These come from L’Argot de la Guerre by Albert Dauzat, first published in 1918, and reissued in 2009, with an introduction by Odile Roynette:

‘Emprunts’ (loans) include ‘bizness’ – for work or business, a longstanding usage in Paris; ‘souinger’ – to bomb, from ‘swing’, originally ‘donner un swing’, probably from boxing; ‘uppercut’ – eau-de-vie, also from boxing; ‘rider’ , pronounced 'ridér'– chic, especially in the language of the cavalry (Dauzat states ‘le rider est le cavalier anglais, donc le cavalier chic – a case of the French looking to the English for style, which must be a rarity); ‘ours’ – horse, maybe picked up from Londoners; ‘go’ – meaning ‘ça va’; ‘come on’ meaning just that; and ‘tanks’, which Dauzat translates as ‘les auto-mitrailleuses ou les auto-camions blindés’ (reinforced); ‘blindés’ itself meant ‘tanks’.

Somehow recruits into the French Army in 1918 came to be known as ‘canadiens’.