Glossary of Slang and Peculiar Terms in Use in the A.I.F.

Annotated edition


Edited by Amanda Laugesen

This is an annotated edition of the Glossary. There is the original entry (errors are corrected; the original manuscript retains all spelling and grammatical idiosyncrasies); a line providing information about the word (for example, if it was generally used, if it was Australian, and so on), the first date it was recorded, and a reference to other texts that attest to the word's usage. This is followed by some additional information explaining the word and its context. In some cases, a citation (a quote showing how it was used at the time) is also included. Links to webpages with further information about terms, equipment, events and other relevant aspects of the experience of the Great War have been provided where possible.

Entries with * are those that are identical to Downing's Digger Dialects. Others may be borrowed from Downing but are not specific enough to be marked. Some of those marked have been added to by Pretty. For an explanation of the relationship between the two texts, see the introduction. Those with the headword italicised are those added to the typescript of the glossary by hand by A.W. Bazley.

Abbreviations (for texts referred to in annotations).

This section contains a selection of AIF slangs annotated edition, their meanings, and their etymologies.

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Abdominal Abbreviation of ‘Abdominal thud’, or crash, which is a polite adaption of ‘Gutzer’.

World War I. Attested here and in Digger Dialects but not otherwise recorded.

Arthur and Ramson note in Digger Dialects: ‘A facetiously elegant play on gutzer. That this was probably general WWI slang is suggested by Partridge’s inclusion of abdominal crash “aeroplane smash, heavy fall”, as Royal Flying Corps slang.’

Abdul  Turkish Soldier, individually, and collectively. An Arabic proper name.

General World War I. Australian. From 1915 (AND).

This term was probably largely used by Australian troops stationed in Egypt and fighting in Turkey. It probably had some currency amongst the Allied Forces generally as well as within the Australian Army, as it is noted by B&P, Partridge, and Green.

So though your name be black as ink
  For murder and rapine,
Carried out in happy concert
  With your Christians from the Rhine,
Life will judge you, Mr. Abdul,
  By the test by which we can –
That with all your breath, in life, in death,

  You’ve played the gentleman.

1916  CEW Bean ‘Abdul’, ANZAC Book p. 59 


World War I Flying. Attested in numerous sources.

The term ‘ace’ was Royal Flying Corps slang for a pilot who had shot down five or more enemy aircraft. The etymology of the term is unclear: ‘ace’ meaning an expert was current in the United States from the late 19th century (Green), however, both F&G and B&P both see this term as originating during the war and being adapted from the ace in a deck of cards.

Acid  See ‘put the acid on’.

Ack.  Signalman’s pronunciation of ‘A’.

General military terminology. From 1898 (OED).

In communications, particularly telephone communications and code messages, signals used a system of pronunciation, for clarity and to prevent misunderstanding. ‘Ack’ for the letter ‘a’ is an example of this code. ‘Ack’ was replaced by ‘able’ in December 1942. Some other examples of signalmen’s pronunciations are ‘beer’ for ‘b’, ‘emma’ for ‘m’ and ‘pip’ for ‘p’.

*Ack. Ack. Ack.  Full stop. Three A’s in a signal signifies the end of a sentence. Otherwise expressed as ‘three to a leaf’, ‘three of a kind’ etc., or ‘ackety ack’.

See ack. Attested in Digger Dialects and commonly used in World War I.

Ack. I. Fuf.  A.I.F. (Australian Imperial Force)

Not otherwise recorded.

Jocular pronunciation for the initials of the Australian Imperial Force, based on the ‘signalese’ mentioned above (see Ack).

Adrift  Absent without leave. Apparently derived from the inference that a soldier who is an illegal absentee is not under the control of the authorities.

General World War I. Attested in Digger Dialects and Partridge.

While certainly used in World War I by the military, Partridge suggests an earlier usage, dating from the mid-19th century, as a general term for ‘missing’. It is recorded in PWWII, suggesting that it was also used in World War II.

Alf-a-mo  (1) ‘Wait a moment’. Originally a request for the one spoken to, to pause for the convenience of the speaker. (2) A small moustache, which was also frequently referred to as a cricket match (eleven a side).

(1) From ‘half a mo’. General colloquialism. From 1896 (OED). Attested in numerous sources.

This phrase was originally Cockney, but became popular with soldiers in World War I. Partridge records the catchphrase ‘alf a mo, Kaiser!’ from a recruiting poster of the war enjoying popularity 1915–18.

(2) World War I Australian. From 1916 (Partridge). Attested in Digger Dialects, Baker, and Partridge.

Alley  Go; ‘alley at the toot’, go quickly. (Corruption of the French ‘Allez’.)

General World War I. From 1915. Attested in Digger Dialects, B&P, F&G, and Partridge.

Numerous wartime slang terms were adaptations or jocular pronunciations of French words. See also, for example, cat-sou, toot-sweet, and tray beans.

Allyslopers Cavalry

General World War I. Attested in F&G and B&P.

This was a jocular play on the initials of the Army Service Corps, the corps responsible for road transport behind the lines. Ally Sloper was a pre-war comic book character who was something of a buffoon. The Army Service Corps was the target of some pointed humour as they were considered by the infantry and artillery as enjoying good pay and relative comfort and safety. Another variation on the Army Service Corps’ initials was the Army Safety Corps. In World War II, there was a popular song in the military, ‘Ally Sloper’s Cavalry’:

But there’s a bunch of soldiers
That are all forgot about
For we’re the old RASC

They call us Ally Sloper’s Cavalry. 

*Andy Mc Noon  An unqualified idiot. From the Arabic ‘Inta machnoon’, a damned fool.

World War I. Attested here and in Digger Dialects.

This play on the Egyptian Arabic word ‘magnoon’ meaning ‘crazy’ is only attested in Digger Dialects and this glossary. The term 'magnoon', which is attested in both AND and Partridge. Partridge notes that it was in use from the late 19th century, but was especially popular with Australian troops in World War I.

*Annie  (1) ‘Gentle Annie’ – a big German Howitzer, which fired on Bailluel, during March and April, 1918. (2) ‘Up in Annie’s Room’, facetious answer to questions as to the whereabouts of someone who cannot be found. (3) Annie from Asia.

(1) World War I. Attested only here and in Digger Dialects, but see (3).

Many of the big guns of the enemy were given such nicknames. Gentle Annie must have been a specific one that the Australian troops were well acquainted with for a short time in 1918.

(2) World War I. Attested in Partridge, Green, and AND.

The etymology of this is unclear. It was popular in World War I and is similar to the response hung on the wire as an answer to a question regarding the whereabouts of someone. Partridge suggests that it was used in the Services slightly before World War I, and often had a sexual connotation, implying that the person sought was with a woman. However, in the war it had more serious implications, suggesting that the missing person was dead. In post-war Australia, it was used in a more general way to suggest a person or thing was missing, and sometimes occurs in the phrase ‘up in Annie’s room and behind the clock’ (AND).

(3) World War I. Attested in F&G and Partridge as ‘Asiatic Annie’.

This was another nickname for a big gun. This was a Turkish heavy gun at the Dardanelles.

Ante up  (1) To surrender an article that was ‘souvenired’. (2) To hand over, to settle an account.

(1) This sense, probably transferred from (2), is otherwise unattested.

This sense appears to be specific to World War I. It should be noted that Digger Dialects records this as meaning ‘to surrender anything’. See also souvenir.

(2) General. Originally US, current from 1861, this term also appeared in Australia from 1878.

The term ‘ante-up’ originated with the game of poker and came to be used more generally in the sense of paying up.

Anty  Sugar – so called on account of the frequency with which ants found their way into the sugar receptacles.

General World War I army. Attested in Digger Dialects and Partridge.

This most likely derives from the attraction of ants to sweet things like sugar.

Anzac  (1) Initial letters of Australian, New Zealand Army corps contracted.  (2) The area on the Gallipoli Peninsula occupied by the Anzac Corps.  (3) One who was on Anzac during the campaign.  (4) Used sarcastically in reference to Military Policemen. The Provost Corps was originally named ‘Anzac Provost Corps’. The term ‘Anzac’ also implied gallantry, another reason for its sarcastic application to the Military Police.

(1) World War I to modern. Attested in numerous sources.

This was the abbreviation used when the Australian and New Zealand soldiers were formed into the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps prior to their landing at Gallipoli in April 1915.

Anzac has become the sort of code word for the Army Corps.

1916 C.E.W. Bean Diary 6 May p. 33

(2) Anzac Cove, the place at Gallipoli where Australian and New Zealand soldiers landed. Attested in AND (1915–1925, then historical).

I was asked by General Headquarters to suggest a name for the beach where we had made good our precarious footing, and then asked that this might be recorded as ‘Anzac Cove’ – a name which the bravery of our men has now made historical, while it will remain a geographical landmark for all time. Our eight months at ‘Anzac’ cannot help stamping on the memory of every one of us days of trial and anxiety, hopes, and perhaps occasional fears, rejoicings at success, and sorrow – very deep and sincere – for many a good comrade whom we can never see again.
1916 Anzac Book p. (ix)

(3) World War I. Attested in numerous sources. Of special importance in Australia (AND) but also used more widely (OED).

Initially ‘Anzac’ was used to describe soldiers who had fought at Gallipoli, but it came to be attached to any Australian or New Zealand soldier. B&P suggest that journalists popularised the use of ‘Anzac’, but that British troops preferred to use the terms Aussie or digger to refer to the Australian troops. Elting notes that American troops also picked up the use of ‘Anzac’ after 1917. The term passed into Australian national mythology, and from July 1916 was protected from exploitation for commercial purposes by law.

The reason why they always avoid calling themselves ‘the Anzacs’ is that the term was at one time associated in the Press with so many highly coloured, imaginative, mock heroic stories of individual feats, which they were supposed to have performed, that its use from that time forth was, by a sort of tacit consent, irrevocably damned within the force. The picture which it called up was that of the ‘Anzac’ in London, with his shining gaiters and buttons and generally unauthorised cock’s feathers in his hat, reaping the glory of the acrobatic performances which his battered countrymen, very unlovely with sweat and dust, were credited with achieving in No Man’s Land.

1917 C.E.W. Bean Letters from France p. 231

(4) World War I Australian. Attested here and in Digger Dialects but not otherwise recorded.

*Anzac Soup  Shell-hole water polluted by a corpse.

World War I Australian. Attested here and in Digger Dialects but not otherwise recorded.

Anzac Stew  The ordinary Army stew diluted with water to a greater extent than usual.

World War I Australian. Attested here and in Digger Dialects.

Digger Dialects notes that this stew generally consisted of hot water and one bacon rind. Lawson records this rare term, but gives it a different meaning – ‘foul water’, a sense perhaps more similar to Anzac Soup.

Anzac Wafer Name given to the Army Biscuit issued as portion of the Iron Ration, or when bread was not fully available. ‘Anzac’ because of their constant use on Gallipoli, and ‘wafer’ sarcastically because of their size and extreme hardness.

General World War I. Australian. Attested  in numerous sources.

When he returned from Sick Parade it was at once evident that something was on his mind. ... At scran-time his Bully and ‘Anzac Wafers’ were untouched, and he drank his section’s rum issue without noticing what he did.

1918 Aussie No. 5, June p. 10 

Apres la Guerre The reply usually given to embarassing questions (especially from mademoiselles); also the beginning of a soldier’s song.

General World War I catchphrase. Attested in Digger Dialects, B&P, and F&G.

This term is French for ‘after the war’. It came to mean ‘never’ and was, as F&G put it, ‘[a]n expression of weariness at the apparently interminable continuance of the War’. The definition given here seems to be a more specific one relating to a popular song, recorded by B&P:

Après la guerre fini,
Anglais soldats parti,
Mademoiselle in the family way,

Après la guerre fini.


Mademoiselle can go to hell

Après la guerre fini. 

Archie Anti-aircraft shell or gun.

General World War I. Attested in numerous sources.

This was largely a World War I term applied specifically to the German anti-aircraft artillery. Elting suggests that it was used at the beginning of World War II, but was replaced, at least by the American troops, with the term ‘flak’. The only suggested etymology for the term is that it came from a popular music-hall song with the refrain ‘Archibald, certainly not’ (Digger Dialects, Elting).

Over the railways and over the dumps, over
the Hun and the Turk,
You’ll hear him mutter, ‘What ho, she
bumps’ when the Archies get to work.

1918 Kia-Ora Coo-ee March 15, 1918 p. 9 

Army Safety Corps Army Service Corps. The A.S.C. rarely had to operate under fire.

General World War I. See Allysloper’s Cavalry.

Arsapeek  Upside down.

World War I. Attested in Digger Dialects and Lawson, suggesting that it might have been popular with Australians; Partridge notes arse a-peak as a lesser-used Services term.

Arsey-Tarsy To fall upside down.

This is otherwise unattested, but the variation ‘arsy-varsy’ is attested in OED and Partridge as slang dating from the 18th century.

Artist  See ‘Star Artist’.

As Near as Damn It  Closely approximating the ideal.

General. From 1894 (OED). Its use in World War I is attested in Digger Dialects.

Atcha ‘Yes’. ‘Alright’. Hindustani used by the A.I.F. in Mesopotamia.

General army. From the middle of the 19th century (Partridge).

A popular army phrase from the Hindustani ‘accha’ meaning ‘good’.

Atmosphere See ‘Vertical Atmosphere’.

Aussie (1) Australians.  (2) Australian made goods.  (3) A wound of sufficient severity to warrant the return of the recipient to Australia.

(1) General World War I, referring to Australian soldiers, which has subsequently passed into general popular usage (AND).

(2) As an adjective, ‘Aussie’ was first attested in 1916 (AND) and has passed into general popular usage.

(3) World War I Australian. Attested here and in Digger Dialects but not otherwise recorded.

Sense (3) is probably a play on blighty.

A.W.L.  Absent without leave.

Military abbreviation, also often A.W.O.L. or AWOL.

This glossary and Digger Dialects both record this abbreviation. It is also attested in a number of World War I sources, which suggest that the A.W.L. abbreviation was more popular with the British and Australian army. The AWOL version is an Americanism which has subsequently become more common. ‘Absent without leave’ dates back to the 19th century as an offical designation for a soldier who abandons his duty without permission.

Axle Grease  Butter.

General. Attested in numerous sources.

While Green suggests that this is a term of Australian origin, the HDAS records this as an American term dating back to 1883. It probably enjoyed a new popularity in World War I.

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