The Military Army Blog

A Glossary of SlangEdwardian Promenade

ague Any fever, such as malaria, that recurs at regular intervals (from Medieval Latin febris acuta, literally, sharp fever)

ammunitions Boots (later usage)

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baize a coarse, woolen material resembling felt

balmy on the crumpet crazy, insane

barnbrack (barmbrack) a spice cake-like bread usually made with currants

beef, beer, and lust What British civilians thought British soldiers were too full of. beer, bum, and bacca Pleasures of the sailor s life, circa 1870, bacca being tobacco. blackavised dark faced, to have a dark complexion, swarthy

black death The plague. A virulent contagious bacteria often found in rats. Humans can get the disease from fleas.

black water fever A type of African malaria that causes anemia and brown or black urine due to the destruction of red blood cells. blimey From Gorblimey!, meaning God blind me

blottesque blotted or blotchy

blotto drunk

blue devils to feel sad or depressed, to be in low spirits. e.g., I had the blue devils after losing the game. blue jacket British sailor

BOR British Other Ranks, non-officers

box coat a large, loose-fitting overcoat worn by coachmen

brew Tea

brevet A temporary higher rank, for example, a captain being a brevet colonel. It was not unusual for British colonial officers on loan to another regiment to be temporarily classed as a higher rank in that regiment but to paid for the lesser rank of their actual regiment. (Old French, diminutive of brief letter)
brick good sort, good sport

brolly Umbrella, circa 1873

broomsquire a professional broom maker

buck a dandy, a smartly dressed or handsome individual

buffer old man, old codger

bunk to tell someone angrily to go away scram!; to dash or sprint away ( done the bunk to escape, run out on [something/one])

bun strangler Non-drinker

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cabinet particulier a private room, usually associated with a restaurant and having a sofa or hidden bed, set aside for trysts by lovers and those having extra-marital affairs

Cardigan an artilleryman from the Cardigan regiment of the Royal Garrison Artillery reserves

caravan Travelers on a journey through hostile regions (Italian caravana, from Persian karwan).

carry the banner tramp

catarrh An inflammation of the nose and air passages that produces drainage (from Greek katarrhein to flow down). char Tea. (Hindustani char)

charpoy A bed, frame strung with tapes or light rope (Hindustani carpai)

cheeking taunting or jeering at

cheese it stop!, stop it!, look out! chit derogatory term for a small or frail woman

cicerone a sightseeing guide

cinematrograph Early motion pictures c. 1900. Also known as viagraph or bioscope.

chee-chee Half-caste, mixed race of British and Indian. Also the sing-song accent of same, from the early influence of Welsh missionaries. cheroot Cigar (from Tamil, curuttu, roll. [About 1679])

cholera belt A body wrapping of flannel worn to supposedly prevent cholera. Used in India until about 1920. chota peg Small drink, a gin and tonic

chota wallah Little guy

class regiment Indian Army regiment whose members were all recruited from one ethnic group such as Sikhs, Gurkhas, etc.

clemming consumptive, emaciated; necessitous, in want, pinched; in shoemaking, the binding together of soles

clergyman s daughter slang for a prostitute or woman with loose morals

clobber Uniform, clothing

cockchafer the beetle Melolontha melolontha

college Prison (as in, I ve been to college. )

contango A technical term from the British Stock Exchange referring to the postponing of a transfer of stock. More colloquially, it refers to the last day to negotiate a financial arrangement before accounts are settled. In slang, it refers to the day of reckoning or the last judgement. Corner to corner the market on something, to gain a monopoly

cozy corner an arrangement of built-in seats situated in a room s corner or next to a fireplace

consumption Pulmonary tuberculosis or any other wasting-away disease that consumed its victims. crammer a person who helps students cram (intensively study) for examinations

crack up talk up, praise, laud

Crikey an exclamation equivalent to Oh My! or Well Then!

croaker A dying person, a corpse, or someone who has given up; doomsayer, complainer

cropper (come a cropper) a hard fall (esp. from a horse); usually used in come a cropper, meaning to come to ruin or to fail miserably

crossing a fight, especially a clandestine prize fight

cushy Easy (Hindi khush pleasant, from Persian khush [1915]

cut it or cutting it escape, take off, take a vacation

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daisy-roots Boots

dead-and-alive dead quiet, dull, sleepy

deevie divine

dekko To take a look (Hindi, deckna, to look)

dhobi wallah Indian who did the washing

dhoolie wallah Indian dhoolie carrier

D. O. British District Officer

doggo To lie doggo, to hide. Probably from dog [1893]

dog cart a two-wheeled vehicle of often simple design and decoration drawn by a smallish horse or a pony

donkey walloper Infantry disparaging term for cavalry

doss a bed or to sleep. Also see on the doss. doss house a cheap lodging house. Also see on the doss. down to be critical

drugget a floor covering made of a coarse fabric

dyspepsia Indigestion (Latin, from Greek, from dys- + pepsis digestion)

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enteric fever Typhoid fever

expie expensive

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fallalish pertaining to an article of clothing or piece of dress that is excessively showy or fancy (from fallal)

fast extravagant, wild

Fieldfare a thrush, Turdus pilaris, related to the European blackbird. In summer it has a brown breast, brown back, white underwings, and grey head. Its winter plumage is mainly grey in color.

finnan haddie smoked haddock

Fishing Fleet Unmarried British women sent to India each year by their parents during the cool weather to find husbands. fittums What a perfect fit! fizz champagne

flash showy, gaudy, vulgar

fossick To search for gold or gemstones typically by picking over abandoned workings (Australian and New Zealand)

footle nonsense; to talk nonsense or to waste time

French to be French is to be disingenuous or unserious

frou-frou the rustling or swish of a dress or gown

fuddled to become befuddled or drunk

furze also known as gorse or whin. A shrub, Ulex europeaeus, which grows 4 feet in height and bears yellow flowers

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gallipot a small, covered earthenware pot

galloper Officer used by commanders to carry messages.

Gardner Gun (machine gun) A one- to five-barreled machine gun used by the British Army from 1880. Operated by turning a crank which loaded and fired each barrel in sequence. gas boasting; idle or nonsensical talk

General Services Enlistment Act One of the causes of the Indian Mutiny. It required Indian troops in British service to to go overseas, if required. Hindus would break caste if they did so. gibbous humpbacked; convex; used to describe the moon when its phase is more than half but less than full

gloaming twilight or dusk

gradley (graidley) thoroughly, greatly

graft Work

grangerised adding material (especially pictures) collected from other sources to an existing book; extra-illustrated

greenwood a form of woodworking which uses freshly-cut wood and specializes in bending the wood into curved shapes for chairs, bows, and ornamental objects; a vivid green wood used in making ornamental objects

grig grasshopper or cricket. Often seen in the phrase merry as a grig, meaning ecstatic or jumping for joy.

grippe Influenza (from French, seizure)

god wallah Priest or chaplain

goolie Testicle, late 19th century (Hindi gooli, a pellet)

gorse see furze

got the chuck fired from a job, discharged from a position, dismissed

got the hump put out, annoyed, irritated. e.g., He has got the hump over it.

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hanger a copse or wooded area on the side of a steep hill

hap luck; happenstance

havelock Cloth cap cover that hung on the back to protect the neck from sunlight (named after Sir Henry Havelock)

heart-whole not in love

heliograph a device which sends messages (usually in morse code) by means of flashes of reflected sunlight

highball whiskey and water (Am Eng)

hoarding a display case or area to place advertisements or advertised products; a wooden fence or barrier

hook it escape, run away, get away

hop the wag play truant from school

hot or cold Ways of attacking. By shooting (hot) or by bayonet (cold)

hoyden a boisterous girl or young woman

hummock a knoll, small hill, or mound of earth

hussar a light cavalryman

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Ichabod an exclamation equivalent to By God!, How terrible!, or What a shame! Usage is derived from the biblical name in 1 Samuel, meaning no glory or the glory is gone. Imperial Yeomanry British volunteer cavalry force recruited from locals for the Boer war. Little or no training, but they had much enthusiasm. indy indigestion

isinglass a gelatin made from fish, usually sturgeon

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jackdaw a crow

jipper to baste; meat broth, gravy, drippings

josser a fool, a fellow

juggins a simpleton

jump liveliness

jumping jesus a zealot or fanatic

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Keep your hair on! a command not to get excited, equivalent to Keep your hat on!

kip place to sleep; Bed (Danish kippecheap tavern)

kipping sleeping

knut an idle upper-class man-about-town

kopje Afrikaans word for a small hill, especially one with steep sides

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liberty-men Sailors on shore leave. limber horse-drawn, two-wheeled wagon used to transport artillery pieces; the action of transporting artillery pieces in a limber; the driver of a limber

linctus in medicine it refers to a medicinal preparation or mixture

leash (of animals) three or threesome

loot Plunder (Hindi lut [c.1788])

lorgnettes opera glasses

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mahout in India, an elephant driver

malaria A disease transmitted by mosquitoes that causes periodic severe attacks of chills and fever, thought at one time to be caused by miasma (Italian [1740], from mala aria, bad air)

man-man a royal personage

matlow Self-adopted name of British sailors (blue-jackets)[1880](from French matelot, sailor)

mar a cripple

Maxim Gun British .303 caliber. Recoil-operated machine gun. First used in Matabele war of 1893-94. Bought and copied by almost all nations, although often under other names. The standard MG during the Great War. Named after the British (American-born) inventor, Sir Hiram Stevens Maxim. miasma A heavy vapor emanation or atmosphere believed to cause malaria or other diseases common in swampy areas (Greek, defilement, from miainein to pollute [1665])

miry swampy, muddy

moithered to be agitated, flustered, or perturbed, especially by a noisy crowd

mumchance silent, dumbstruck

munge to chew or chop into a mixture; to get into or cause a bad situation, to make a mess of things

murrain A plague that infects domestic animals (from Latin mori, to die)

Mussulman A Moslem or Muslim (Turkish m sl man, Persian musulman, modification of Arabic muslim)

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nap a form of the card game whist

nappy wallach Barber

nasty jar a bad or sticky situation

Nebuchadnezzar phase a drunken episode, a drinking bout. Derived from the name given the largest container of champagne a Nebuchadnezzar which held 20 quarts or 15 liters

nesh frail; tender, especially as regards susceptibility to the cold

nightie nightgown

Night-jar a bird, Caprimulgus europaeus, with gray-brown plumage and white wings. Also known as the goatsucker.

Nordenfelt Gun Although Nordenfelt produced other types of guns, when used in a colonial setting the term usually refers to a multi-barreled machine gun (2 to 10 barrels) operated by a lever which was moved back and forth. First used in the 1880 s. nuclear spot central location

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oast an oven for drying hops or malt

off his chump insane, crazy

off his onion mad, crazy

old sweat Veteran

on the cot Changing one s ways

on the doss on the tramp, vagabondage

on the peg Under arrest

osier a small willow tree whose branches are often used in basket making, Salix viminalis

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padding the hoof walking

paddy Rice field (Malay padi [1623])

palanquin in India, a sedan chair used by British colonials, especially women, of rank. It was either carried by men or set atop an elephant. paling a fence, specifically the upright components of a fence especially wooden pickets

pannier Donkey load. A large basket or container carried on the back of an animal or on the shoulders of a person (13th century, Latin, panis, bread)

pantechnicon a furniture moving truck

peg a soup kitchen, a place where free meals are given out

pettish peevish

P. and O. Peninsular and Oriental Steamship Company. The main line for British travelers to India and the East

Per mare, per terram By land, by sea , motto of the Royal Marines. AKA Poor Mary on the terrace

pipe off lose interest in something, especially a lover

pippin an outstanding person; a variety of apple

pith helmet Sun helmet made of cloth-covered cork.

piquet A small guard post with about 12 men or less. Pom or Pommie Derisive Australian soldier s term for British officers or British men in general (from pomade hair dressing)

poodle-faker A man who spent too much time in the society of women, engaging in such activates as tea parties, balls, etc. pop-wallah Non-alcohol drinker, a drinker of soda pop

pother to bother or worry; a fuss, confusion

Pooterism a middle-class obsession with respectability and class distinctions; social pretentiousness, pettiness. The term is derived from Charles Pooter who is the main character in The Diary of a Nobody (1892) by George and Weedon Grossmith.

pukka Genuine, authentic, first-class (Hindi pakka cooked, ripe, solid, from Sanskrit pakva)

pukka sahib Excellent fellow (used for Europeans only)

puggaree Muslin cloth wrapped around a pith helmet (Hindi pagri turban)

punk Inferior, as in played a punk game , feeling punk (ill) (1896)

punkah wallah Indian employed to work a fan, usually by a string attached to their toe or thumb. pusher Girl friend

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Queen s shilling, the Bounty paid to a new recruit for joining the army.

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rag a rowdy event or celebration; a prant; the act of teasing or scolding

ragger someone who is noisy or riotous; a conspicuous troublemaker

razzle-dazzle a spree, to go carousing; to womanize

reach-me-down used, as in a reach-me-down piece of clothing; equivalent to hand-me-down

repining chagrin; regret; bitterness; yearning

rinking roller skating

rooky New recruit

roly-poly a pudding made by rolling jam within a sheet of suet pastry which is then baked

R.M.L.I. Royal Marine Light Infantry

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sack cheap wine

satinette gin

sawney Scotsman (circa 1700 on)

scorching speeding, racing; exceeding the speed limit in a motor car

scraper a boot scraper

screwed drunk, intoxicated

semi-classical a euphemism for semi-nude, often used when describing art

settle a bench or chair with a high back

shako Stiff, tall Armyrats © military hat (French, from Hungarian cs k )

shambles a slaughterhouse or butcher shop

shandy-gaff a combination of ale and ginger beer

shaping working oneself into a state of excitement over something; preparing

shrapnel Anti-personnel shell that exploded in the air and scattered small lead balls. Also, later on, any piece of metal from any type shell. (After the inventor, Henry Shrapnel [1806])

skof Food

sleeping sickness A serious disease transmitted by tsetse flies, common in much of tropical Africa. Sleeping sickness saved parts of Africa from being settled by Europeans in the 19th century because it killed their cattle and horses. slingers Hard tack and coffee

snotty Midshipman [Royal Navy]

spyglass Telescope

stoppages Money deducted from a soldier s pay ( stopped ) as a punishment

subaltern A junior officer in the British army, just below lieutenant.

swaddy Soldier. siphon short for siphon bottle, a bottle holding aerated or soda water

skilly a concoction of three parts oatmeal stirred into three and one-half buckets of hot water. It was a staple of the diet in workhouses. skittle a form of ninepins; one of the pins knocked down in the game

slavey a maid of all work

slinging my hook running away, escaping. Also hook it.

sluice a wash, to bathe

snuggery a comfortable, cozy, snug room or place

spasammy offhand, casual, cavalier

spavined deteriorated, in disrepair; in medicine it refers to swelling

spike the casual ward of a workhouse

spoil-five a card game probably of Irish origin. After an initial bet, each player is dealt five cards and seeks to win three of five tricks. The winner gets the pot. If no one wins, the game is called spoiled and a new initial bet is added to the existing pot before the next deal. stash it Royal Navy slang for be quiet , eqivalent to stow it

stashing it up causing a commotion or tumult

sticking hockey

stylograph a fountain pen which has a point instead of a split nib

sub an advance on one s pay

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taken the knock to be betrayed or jilted by a lover

teagie tea gown

tiled included in, covered with guilt or responsibility; in the same situation. e.g., We are all tiled in this mess. Ticker Soldier who owned his own personal watch (early usage)

tiffin Lunch or snack (obsolete English tiff to eat between meals)

to fire into the brown Originally referred to hunters firing into a covey of game birds without aiming at any particular bird, but was later used for soldiers firing into a charging mass of natives.

topee Helmet (Hindi topi)

Tommy Tommy Atkins. Name for the British common soldier

toerag a bum or vagrant

tommy food

top-hole first class, first rate, the very best

tosh rubbish, nonsense

trap a two-wheeled carriage often pulled by a pony and called a pony trap or a pony and trap

trump an outstanding person

tumbled to get to the bottom of, discover the truth of, concluded the facts of a mystery or situtation. e.g., He tumbled to the truth of the matter.

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vapors A Victorian belief that emanations from bodily organs (such as the stomach) could affect the physical and mental condition of people, especially women. Vapors were often blamed for women fainting, although fashions that included binding women s bodies so tight that they could barely breathe would seem to be a more likely cause. VC The Victoria Cross, the highest British medal

vedettes Mounted sentries

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wad Cake

wag his pow to wag one s tongue, to babble, to jabber, to rattle on

wagonette a four-wheeled, horse-drawn carriage often having facing benches or seats in the rear

wallah Person associated with an activity for example, god wallah for priest

wet Tea, as in, have a wet ,

What priced head have you? roughly means How severe is your hangover? whin see furze

white satin gin

wizard Excellent, as in a wizard time

wrangler a debater; at the University of Cambridge, one of those who have attained the first grade in the second (until 1909 in the first) part of the examination for honors in mathematics. Until 1909, the student attaining the highest marks was called the senior wrangler.

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yarning inextricable

yellow fever A disease transmitted by mosquitoes that causes jaundice, among many other symptoms

yellow jack Yellow fever

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zenana in India, the apartment set aside for women in the household

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