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OED Appeals: First World War words

OED Appeals: First World War words

To commemorate the centenary of the start of the First World War (1914–18), the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) is revising a set of vocabulary related to or coined during the war. Part of the revision process involves searching for earlier or additional evidence, and for this we need your help. Our first quotations are often from newspapers and magazines, and we know that there may well be earlier evidence in less-easily-accessible sources such as letters, diaries, and government records, many of which are now being made available in digital form for the first time.

Can you find earlier examples of usage of any of the following words and phrases? Visit the OED Appeals page to find out more, and to submit any antedating evidence.

Sam Browne (‘an officer’) n. earlier than 1919

Sam Browne belts, designed by Samuel James Browne and originally worn by commissioned army officers, were first used in the 19th century. From the term Sam Browne belt arose the U.S. military slang term Sam Browne meaning simply ‘a commissioned officer’. The first evidence we have for this slang usage is from 1919:

You…went to the movies chaperoned by a Sam Browne.

1919 Company Fund, p. 26/1

Zeppelins in a cloud n. earlier than 1925

Zeppelins, which were widely used for reconnaissance and bombing in the First World War, must have captured the imagination of soldiers, and one of the more colourful phrases originating in the war is Zeppelins (or Zepps) in a cloud (with variants such as Zepps in a fog/smokescreen, etc.) meaning ‘sausage and mash’. However, the earliest example we have for the phrase is from a 1925 dictionary, and the first contextual example is from 1931:

Zeppelin in a cloud, sausage and mashed potatoes.

1925 Edward Fraser & John Gibbons Soldier & Sailor Words, p 313

I’ll bring yer a spot o’ coffee and a couple o’ Zepps in a smoke screen.

1931 Margery Allingham Look to Lady i. p. 22

trench foot/mouth n. earlier than 1915/1917

The appalling conditions of the trenches caused various painful medical conditions, including trench foot (swelling and pain in the feet caused by prolonged exposure to damp and cold) and trench mouth (severe inflammation of the mucous membrane of the mouth). The earliest quotations we have found for these terms are from 1915 and 1917 respectively:

The so-called cases of trench pain or trench feet usually have no tissue destruction, no blebs, and not even any discolouration of the skin.

1915 Lancet 30 Jan., p. 230/1

The ‘Trench Mouth’, a development of these conditions in warfare, was responsible for much suffering.

1917 Oral Hygiene 7 p. 881

conchie n. earlier than Oct. 1917

The term conscientious objector, referring to a person who refuses to do something on the grounds of conscience, has been used since the 19th century, but it was not until 1916, with the introduction of conscription in the U.K., that it was used specifically to refer to such a person who refuses to serve in the armed forces. During the war, conscientious objectors were often colloquially—and usually depreciatively—referred to as conchies, but the first written evidence we have for this abbreviated form is not until 1917:

The assembly of eleven hundred ‘conscientious’ objectors at one spot, Princetown, on Dartmoor, where they are known as ‘conchies’.

1917 Daily Mail 9 Oct., p. 2/3

demob n. & v. earlier than 1919

The term demobilization, referring to the release of troops from military service at the end of a war, has been in use since the 19th century, but the abbreviated form demob seems to have been used only since the end of the First World War. The first quotations we have for the noun and verb respectively are:

Cambridge graduate, age 38, married elig. for demob., now home, can invest up to £500 in good class Practice or Partnership.

1919 Brit. Med. Jrnl. 28 June, p. 38/3

He’s demobbed, and has gone into the City. Horribly rich already, and will now, of course, make another pile.

1919 Mary Augusta Ward Cousin Philip iii. p. 52

camouflage n. earlier than July 1916

The development of aerial warfare and accurate long-range artillery in the First World War meant that weapons, vehicles, and troops needed to be concealed from enemy view; hence the need for camouflage (a word borrowed from French; it had been used in French to mean ‘disguise’ since the 19th century). The earliest evidence we have for camouflage in English is from 1916:

The shells, which a simple camouflage of white tarpaulins effectually hid from the enemy.

1916 Cornhill Mag. July, p. 54

Please visit the OED Appeals page to submit any antedating evidence.

Read an update on these Appeals.

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