Translation musings: the language of WW1

Aug 5, 2014 | Language

poppyI don’t know if you did, but my family sat in the dark last night with our one candle burning as a mark of respect and to commemorate the beginning of WW1. The letters and poems that were read out during the memorial service were moving and poignant and most of us still remember someone in our family who was involved in the Great War. I am looking forward to some of the coming events – although that seems an odd turn of phrase for the circumstances. And new phrases and slang are one of the many things that have remained as reminders of that tumultuous time.

The Guardian Education pages recently put together a guide to some of the slang that came out of WW1. A very familiar phrase from that time is probably No Man’s Land – the space between lines of opposing trenches. Although this was commonly in use before 1914, it has certainly become evocative of that time.

A number of the phrases listed by The Guardian derive from Hindi – as many of our slang words do – coming as they do from the large number of troops stationed in India at that time. Dekko, for example, as in let’s take a dekko (or look) comes from, dekho, the Hindi word for look. Cushy also comes from Hindi – khush – meaning pleasure.

And surely the word most used, usually in a posh British accent from a chap with a rather spiffy uniform and splendid moustache, is Blighty. This time from Urdu, it was used to describe the British troops in India and comes from bilayati, which actually translates to foreign. This gradually became more specific to the British, and finally Britain. According to The Guardian: “One of the great hopes for a British soldier was “a blighty one”, a wound that was disabling, but not disastrous, which would send the wounded man home for good.”

Click here to see the whole article and also take a look at these amazing composite photographs, superimposing WW1 scenes onto contemporary settings.

photo credit: babykrul @