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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Babbling Brook, Babbler  An Army cook. Originated in the rhyming slang as ‘Babbling Brook’, one of the few terms so originated that were subjected to further adaption.

Specific World War I use of general Australian rhyming slang. Attested in numerous sources. AND records ‘babbler’ from 1904, and ‘babbling brook’ from 1913.

Both ‘babbling brook’ and ‘babbler’ were current in Australia prior to World War I to refer to a cook. In World War I it was applied specifically to an army cook. Partridge suggests that it also had some use by the British army in World War I.

‘What’s this the Babbling Brook has given me – tea or stew?’ asked the new hand perplexedly, as he contemplated the concoction in his dixie. ‘It’s tea,’ announced his cobber.

1918 Aussie No. 6, August p. 1

Babblers Offsider  See ‘Offsider’.

Baby Elephant

World War I Flying. Australian. Attested in Cutlack.

According to Cutlack, the ‘Baby Elephant’ was a nickname for a scout aeroplane, manufactured by Martynside Ltd. in 1915, and used by the No. 1 Australian Squadron in Egypt.

*Back Chat  (1) An impertinent bandying of words. (2) To answer back.

(1) General. From 1901 (OED) and probably originally a Services’ term.

(2) From 1919 (Digger Dialects). OED records the verb from 1927.

*Back in One’s Cart  Interfere, to ask for more.

Attested here and in Digger Dialects but not otherwise recorded.

Lawson includes this phrase as meaning ‘to intrude’ which is very close to the definition provided here; it is possibly an Australian phrase.

Bags  (1) Plenty, a larger quantity. (2) The sandbag revetted parapet of the trench.

(1) General. First recorded in World War I Services’ (1917, OED), but passed into general use. Attested in numerous sources.

(2) World War I. Not otherwise recorded.

An abbreviation of ‘sandbags’, specific to military use. Sandbags lined the top of trenches.

Balls in a Knot (to get)  To lose one’s temper.

General. Not otherwise recorded in this form.

Lighter and Partridge record the phrase ‘get one’s balls in an uproar’ meaning to become unduly excited or angry. Partridge attributes this to the Canadian Army during World War I and becoming common in the British Army until the 1970s. This particular form is not found anywhere else, and might be an Australian variation.

Banger  Sausage.

General. From 1919 (OED). Attested in numerous sources.

Digger Dialects is the first recorded instance of this term. It was possibly originally a Services’ term. By World War II the term was general and widespread in both Australia and Britain (Partridge). It derived from the tendency of sausages to explode, if not pricked when fried.

Banjo  Shovel, so called by reason of the similarity in shape and also perhaps, because of the metallic ring of the steel when struck.

General Australian. From 1915 (AND). Attested in numerous sources.

Most sources record this as originally Australian, but Partridge suggests that it was also a Durham miners’ and builders’ term. This is probably from a device used for washing tin, in mining (also used in Australia). In Australia, ‘banjo’ also referred to ‘a shoulder of mutton’ from 1897 (AND). In World War I, soldiers used it to refer to entrenching tools.

Bank, to

General Flying. From 1911 (OED).

This refers to the action of inclining a machine in flight at an angle to the horizon, usually in order to turn (Digger Dialects, Cutlack).

Bare  Exactly so, with nothing to spare. The slang element in its use was due only to the unnecessarily frequent usage to which the word was put rather than to any corruption of orthodox meaning.

General. Standard English from c.1200 (OED).

Barrage  (1) A French word officially a name for concentrated artillery, trench mortar, or machine gun fire. (2) In the slang sense the term means a communication; to confound, ‘a gas barrage’, or oration.

(1) General military. From 1916 (OED).

(2) Figurative use of (1). From 1919 (Partridge). Attested in Digger Dialects, B&P, and Partridge.

Bass attack  A drinking bout. A humorous corruption of ‘Gas attack’, Bass is a brand of English beer.

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

Base wallah  A person employed at the base.

General World War I military. 1915–18 (Partridge). Attested in numerous sources.

This was a term that implied that someone was comfortable and safe working at the base, behind front lines. ‘Wallah’ is derived from Hindi (‘connected with’) and means a ‘chap or person’, and was used alone and in various combinations, usually as part of British Army talk.

Bastard  A term of endearment.

General Australian. From 1892 (AND).

‘Bastard’ as a term of abuse is recorded in the OED from 1830. Its use in a more good-humoured sense is Australian.

Bat  Language. Hindustani, used by Australians in Mesopotamia.

General. From 1887 (OED).

This word was picked up by the British Army in the late 19th century. Its use here suggests it was still current in World War I.

Batt  Abbreviation of Battalion or Battery. Officially used in correspondence order, etc.; and vocally as slang.

General military. US from 1862 (Lighter) and British army from late 19th century (Partridge).

Beachy Bill The Turkish guns emplaced in the Olive Grove (Gallipoli) which caused considerable casualties at Anzac, mostly on the beaches.

World War I. 1915 (Partridge). Attested in F&G and Partridge.

While Partridge does not note this as specifically Australian, ‘Beachy Bill’ clearly has special relevance to the Australian experience of the war.

There’s a certain darned nuisance called ‘Beachy,’
   Whose shells are exceedingly screechy;
               But we’re keeping the score,
               And we’re after your gore –

So look out, ‘Beachy Bill,’ when we meet ye.

1916 ANZAC Book, p. 96.

Bean  A mode of address, as ‘Hello, old Bean’.

General. ‘Bean’ from 1860 (Partridge); ‘old bean’ first used during World War I (1917, OED) but not specifically military.

OED records that ‘old bean’ was first used as an expression of familiarity around the time of World War I. ‘Bean’ alone meaning ‘a man, chap, fellow’ dates back much earlier.

Beano  Treat, feast. From ‘bean feast’.

General. From c.1897 (Partridge).

The term ‘bean feast’, according to Partridge, dates back to 1806 as an annual feast given to workmen by their employers. By the late 19th century, the term ‘beano’ was in use to refer to an annual feast or more generally to ‘a jollification’. Dennis includes ‘beano’ in his glossary to The Sentimental Bloke, suggesting some currency amongst Australians during the war period.

Beans  WELL! see ‘Tray Beans’, from the French, ‘bien’.

World War I. Corruption of the French. Attested here and in Digger Dialects but not otherwise recorded. See tray beans.

*Beat it  Hurry away.

General. Originally US. From the late 19th century (Lighter, Green).

Beat-off, The  On the wrong track, getting away from the point.

Not otherwise recorded.

*Beef it out  Call in a stentorian voice. From the simile of a roaring bull.

General Australian. From 1916 (Dennis). Attested in Lawson and Partridge.

This probably derives from the American ‘beef’ meaning to ‘to talk loudly or to no purpose’ (from 1866, Lighter). It possibly may have an older origin in the flash term ‘beef’ meaning ‘to cry or give beef’, to stop a thief (F&H). Dennis provides the first example of ‘beef it out’ and defines it as meaning ‘to declaim vociferously’.

Beer Esses   Flattery, kidstakes. An abbreviation of ‘Bull Shit’.

World War I. Not otherwise recorded.

This is based on signalmen’s pronounciations of ‘b.s.’ See ack.

Beer Pull  A control lever in an aeroplane (also beer lever, pump, handle, joy-stick).

World War I. ‘Beer-pull’ attested here and in Digger Dialects but otherwise not recorded.

A transferred use of the Standard English ‘beer-pull’, the ‘handle of a beer-engine’ (‘a machine for drawing or pumping up beer from the casks to the bar’) (OED). The additional sense of beer-lever is recorded by Partridge as an RAF term from the 1930s used in World War II, but its presence here and in Digger Dialects are the earliest recorded instances. See also joy-stick.

*Beer-swiper  A drunkard.

Australian. Attested in Digger Dialects and Lawson.

AND includes a variety of terms for a drunkard including ‘beer-chewer’, ‘beer-eater’ and ‘beer-sucker’ but this particular variation is not well attested. It is unclear whether this was a term used only in World War I or if it was current in Australia prior to the war.

*Beer-up  A drunken orgy.

World War I, thereafter general Australian (AND).

While Digger Dialects is the first recorded instance of this term, it was almost certainly a term used by Australian soldiers during World War I. The next citation evidence (1921) in AND is from Aussie, a popular battlefield newspaper that continued in the postwar period and represented the language and culture of the Australian soldiers and veterans.

Belgium  A fatal wound, as distinct from a ‘blighty’ or an ‘Aussie’.

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

*Belly-ache  A mortal wound.

World War I. Attested here and in Digger Dialects but otherwise unrecorded.

Bergoo  Porridge.

More commonly ‘burgoo’. General. From 1750 (OED).

This term was originally a seaman’s term for ‘a thick oatmeal gruel or porridge’ (OED). It became widespread to refer to institutional cooking, hence its popularity in the Services during World War I. Partridge notes that while British soldiers preferred the spelling of ‘burgue’, the Australian soldier preferred ‘burgoo’ probably because of the possibility of using it as rhyming slang for stew, to which the word was sometimes attached. The word itself originally was derived from the Arabic ‘burghul’ for ‘cracked wheat’.

*Bernhardi’s Botts  A Regimental Band. So called from ‘Gen. Bernhardi, the apostle of frightfulness’.

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

This was possibly a name applied to a specific regimental band. It played on the name of General Bernhardi (1849–1930), a German officer who was an advocate of German military expansion, and the term bott ‘a cadger’.

Bertha  A German long range gun, esp. one of those used by the Germans to bombard Paris. Named perhaps after Mme. Bertha Krupp, friend of the Ex Kaiser.

General World War I. Attested in numerous sources.

German heavy guns and mortars earned the nickname ‘Bertha’ (also ‘Big Bertha’) from the name of the owner of the Krupp steel works that produced much of the war’s weaponry, Bertha Krupp von Bohlen und Halbach. F&G record that the term was popular with all the Allied Forces and in the press. In particular, the name was applied to those guns which bombarded Paris in March and April 1918 and had extreme range.

*Bezooks  Francs.

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

Biff  To hit or punch.

General. From 1888 (OED).

This term is possibly of US origin (Partridge, Green). The DAE records the first occurrence of the verb in 1892. It has remained a popular term in the US.

Billy Harris  Abbreviation of ‘Bilharzia’, a disease common in Palestine.

General World War I. Attested in F&G, B&P,and Partridge as ‘Bill Harris’.

Partridge suggests that this was originally an Australian Army name for the parasitic disease of bilharzia which had the potential to affect troops stationed in Egypt and Palestine.

Bimf  See Bumf.

Binge  A drunken orgy.

General. From 1889 (OED). Attested in numerous sources.

This term had its origins in British dialect (Midlands and Eastern England) in a figurative use of ‘to soak’ (EDD). While this was a term current from the late 19th century, ‘binge’ enjoyed wide currency during World War I. B&P suggests that it was term used more by officers than by soldiers.

Bint  Girl (Arabic).

General Services’. From 1855 (OED). Attested in numerous sources.

This derives from an Arabic word meaning ‘daughter’. It was widely used in World War I by soldiers stationed in Egypt and surrounding areas. It was generally pejorative and implied a prostitute (F&G, Partridge). However, it also had some currency from about 1920, to refer to one’s girlfriend or simply to refer to a woman. Elting records the non-pejorative sense as being used by American troops in World War II.

Bird  (1) A person. (2) A girl.

(1) General. From 1852 (OED).

(2) General. From 1880 (Partridge). Attested in numerous sources.

The general sense of ‘bird’ as a ‘girl’ was current from the late 19th century, but the term was also often specifically used of a ‘sweetheart’, especially in the early 20th century.

Birdie  Abbreviation of General Sir Wm. Birdwood and used as a nickname.

World War I. Confirmed in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Vol. 7 1891-1939.

Field Marshal William Birdwood (1865–1951) was made commander of the Australian and New Zealand forces serving in Europe in November 1914. In 1915 he oversaw the Anzac contingent in the landings at Gallipoli, after which he oversaw the Anzac troops on the battlefields of the Western Front. In May 1918 he was promoted to command the Fifth Army. He was very popular amongst the Anzac soldiers during and after the war. After his retirement from the Army in 1930, he hoped to become Governor-General, but never achieved this.

Birl  To ‘give it a birl’, a fair trial; sometimes a suggestion that a certain proceeding has gone far enough. (See ‘cut it out’.)

‘Burl’, general Australian. From 1919 (AND).

The spelling ‘birl’, given here, is the same as the Scots dialect word from which it derives meaning ‘to spin, twirl’.  See also burl. Digger Dialects  is the first recorded instance.

*Birthday  (1) A good time; satiety of good things. (2) An attack, raid, or repulse of an enemy, effected with unexpected ease.

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

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

Bit – to do one’s bit  To do one’s share, to do something, however small, especially towards winning the war.

General. From 1889 (OED).

F&G note that this phrase was not much used at the front but was very popular on the home front, helping it to become established as a widespread expression.

Bit of fluff  Girl.

General. From 1903 (OED). Attested in numerous sources.

This term carries something of a pejorative connotation, sometimes applied to a woman of questionable morals. Variations include ‘bit of goods’ (from 1847), ‘bit of stuff’, ‘bit of muslin’ (from 1874), and ‘bit of mutton’ (from 1889).

*Bite  (1) To borrow. (2) A borrowing, an attempt to borrow.

(1) ‘Bite’ as a verb is general Australian from 1912 (AND). Attested in numerous sources.

(2) General Australian (AND). Digger Dialects is the first recorded instance of the noun.

*Bite the Dust  (1) Suffer humiliation. (2) See ‘Come a Gutzer.’

(1) General. From 1750 (OED).

‘Bite the dust’ more often means ‘to die’, but can also mean ‘to fall to the ground; to be abased’ (OED).

(2) See (1) and Gutzer.

*Black Hand  A Section of Bombers. (Infantry)

General World War I. Attested in F&G, Digger Dialects, Partridge.

This term had a broader sense in World War I, usually in the combination ‘black hand gang’ and referred to those sent on very dangerous missions, such as a trench-raid. This sense, according to Partridge, was current 1916–18. It was also applied to bombers, stretcher-bearers, and others assigned dangerous duties. According to Partridge, this sense was current from 1917. F&G suggest the term originated with the villain’s role in a film melodrama.

Blank, Blanky, Blankety  Words used as a substitute for foul language.

General. From the middle of the 19th century (OED).

These terms were euphemistically used as verbal representation of a dash which was put instead of an oath or profane word, for example d----d, for ‘damned’.

We're goin to sock the blighters
If we 'arf a show,
Of course we’re bloomin skiters –
We can do our bit of blow.
But we know our blanky brothers,
Who have gone along before,
Fought as well as most the others,

Though they ain’t quite won the war.

April 1917 ‘The Skiters’ The Osteralia

Blighter  An obnoxious person. More or less mild invective, a familiar form of address.

General. From 1896 (OED). Attested in numerous sources.

The earliest meaning of ‘blighter’ was almost entirely negative; in the 20th century, however, its meaning extended to include a jocular sense of ‘chap or fellow’ (Partridge).

Blighty  (1) England. (2) A wound sufficiently serious to necessitate the recipient’s removal to an English Hospital. Hindustani, Vilagaty, bilate, provincial Europe and English.

(1) General army. Probably pre-World War I (Green).

This sense was probably first used by those in the Indian Army, but gained wide currency in World War I. B&P allude to how great meaning was attached to the word: ‘In this one word was gathered all the soldier’s home-sickness and affection and war-weariness.’ ‘Blighty’ was derived from the Hindustani ‘bilayati’ meaning ‘foreign, and especially Europe’. The Hindustani came ultimately from the Arabic ‘wilayati’ meaning ‘province’ (Elting).

(2) General World War I. From 1915 (Partridge).

Blimp  (1) A small dirigible airship. (2) A particular make of Naval Airship.

General. From 1916 (OED). Attested in numerous sources.

The term ‘blimp’ for a ‘small dirigible airship’ came into currency during World War I.  It was essentially a slang term, of uncertain origin. During World War I, the British Army employed two types of airships: the first were non-rigid airships, used for antisubmarine patrols along the coast (and perhaps explaining (2)); the second were rigid airships and were mostly used by the Germans (and also known as Zeppelins, after their producer Ferdinand Graf von Zeppelin). The British Army did employ some of these latter type, mostly for convoy protection.

Blind Spot

World War I Flying. Attested in Cutlack.

Cutlack’s Flying Corps Glossary, from which this term was taken, records the following definition of ‘blind spot’: ‘A point (below the tail of an aeroplane) at which an approaching adversary was hidden from the sights of the observer’s guns. It was therefore the position usually taken up, if possible, by an adversary attacking a two-seater.’

Blithered  Drunk.

General Australian. From 1911 (AND). Attested in numerous sources.

This derives from the British dialect term ‘blither’ (or ‘blather’) meaning nonsense (EDD). ‘To blither’ meaning ‘to talk nonsense’ was current from 1868 (OED).

Blitherer  Something or someone excellent.

Australian. Attested in Digger Dialects and Baker.

This possibly derives from the same source as Blithered.

Block, Did his  Lost his temper.

General Australian. From 1907 (AND). Attested in numerous sources.

Bloke  Fellow, used in the third person.

General. From 1851 (OED). Attested in numerous sources.

This term dates back to the 19th century, but was in widespread general use in the 20th century, and was widely used by Australians. It was also commonly used in the Army, according to F&G.

*Blood bath  The Somme 1916. Thought to be a German expression.

World War I. Attested in Partridge.

Partridge records this as indeed being a German expression referring to the 1916 Battle of the Somme, but was thereafter adapted to any big battle with heavy casualties (from 1917).

Bloody  An expletive. Unpleasant.

General, but characteristically Australian. From 1814 (AND).

This term dates back to the 17th century, connoting detestation. In World War I, it was popularly used as an adjective referring to all work (Partridge).

*Bloods worth bottling  A phrase expressive of admiration.

General Australian. From 1919 (Digger Dialects). Attested in Digger Dialects and Partridge.

This may well have originated amongst Australian troops in World War I.

Blotto  Inebriated.

General. From 1905 (Partridge).

Partridge suggests that this word, of uncertain origin, might have derived from either the absorbing qualities of blotting–paper, or from the Romany ‘motto’ meaning ‘intoxicated’.

Blow off  (1) Go away, clear out. (2) To voice one’s anger.

(1) This exact sense is not otherwise recorded.

(2) General. Originally US. From 1863 (Lighter).

‘A blow-off’ was generally an ‘emotional outburst’. The imperative ‘blow off’ does not appear to be a common expression.

*Blow One’s Bag Out  To boast.

Australian. Attested in Digger Dialects, and ‘blow one’s bags’ in Green and Partridge.

Not a common expression, but a use of ‘blow’ meaning to ‘boast’ dating back to 1789 (OED). Another variation of this is ‘blow one’s trumpet’. Green and Partridge date ‘blow one’s bag’ to 1961, but it appears to have an earlier currency.

Blow Out  (1) A big meal. (2) To overthrow another’s contention.

(1)  General. From 1824 (OED). Attested in numerous sources.

(2) Not otherwise recorded.

Sense (2) is possibly related to the sense of ‘a quarrel, row’, originally American, from 1825 (Lighter, OED).

*Blow-to-fook  Shatter to fragments.

This exact phrase is attested here and in Digger Dialects but not otherwise recorded.

The OED records the similar, but more polite, ‘blow to bits’ and ‘blow to atoms’, from the 19th century. ‘Fook’ is a euphemism for ‘fuck’ (possibly playing on a dialect pronunciation similar to ‘choom’ for ‘chum’).

*Bludged on the Flag  To fail to justify one’s existence as a soldier.

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

The term ‘bludge’ meaning ‘to evade one’s own responsibilities and impose on, or prey upon, others’ is Australian, from 1899 (AND). This phrase must have been a World War I adaptation.

Bluey  The usual nickname of an auburn haired man.

General Australian. From 1906 (AND).

*Blue Light  A prophylactic establishment.

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

Probably an abbreviation of ‘blue light clinic’ meaning ‘a venereal disease clinic’, and related to ‘blue light outfit’ an ‘anti-VD kit supplied to armed services’. Both are Australian, attested in Green and Partridge.

*Bluff-stakes  A deceitful or mala fide attempt to influence the conduct of another.

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

See the similar but more common Kid-stakes.

Body-snatcher  A member of a raiding party. Raids were usually for identification purposes; the method being to bring back if possible live Germans, but failing that, shoulder straps, or any other means of identifying the opposing unit.

World War I. Attested here and in Digger Dialects but this precise sense is not recorded otherwise.

‘Body-snatcher’ had two senses current in World War I. One was ‘stretcher-bearer’; the other was ‘a sniper’ (Partridge and Dickson). The term went back to the 19th century meaning ‘a violator of graves’ (Farmer and Henley), a sense echoed here.

Bog in  An exhortation of vigorous action.

General Australian. From 1907 (AND). Attested in numerous sources.

This term was used generally in the sense of ‘to engage (in a task or activity) with vigour or enthusiasm’ and was used particularly to refer to eating. It probably is a figurative use of the sense of ‘bog’, ‘to sink, to get stuck into’. The sense recorded here is the imperative.

*Boils  The name applied to the Aust. Corps in the line. Also The Boil, [that is,] impossible to take the core (corps) out.

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

A joke referring to the Australian soldiers, and suggesting their dogged fighting spirit.

Boko  Nose.

General. Originally US. From 1859 (Lighter and OED).

This was a popular late 19th century British slang term, also well attested in Australian English.

Bollocks  Absurd, an absurdity; an embellishment of ‘balls’ (the testicles) used derisively.

General. From the late 19th century (Partridge).

Bolo  ‘Bolo the Bat’, speak the language, used in Mesopotamia.

General army. From the late 19th century (Partridge).

This term was derived from Hindustani ‘bolo bat’, meaning ‘to speak’. See also Bat.

*Bombing Officer  The Moon. Moonlight nights were favoured for bombing operations.

World War I. Not otherwise recorded.

Bonzer  Good, beautiful.

General Australian. From 1906 (AND). Attested in numerous sources.

The etymology for this term is unclear. It is similar to the terms Boshter and Bosker.

Boob  (1) Prison, or Guard Room. (2) One who is simple or incapable.

(1) Specific World War I use of general sense of ‘prison’, US, from 1908 (Lighter).

‘Boob’ is a shortened form of ‘booby-hatch’, which dates from 1859,  a US term generally referring to a prison or lock-up (Lighter).

(2) General. Originally US. From 1907 (Lighter).

This sense of ‘boob’ originated in referring to ‘a lunatic, an inmate of a lunatic asylum’ (Lighter).

Bookoo  A lot, much, from the French ‘beaucoup’.

World War I. Corruption of the French. This spelling attested in Dickson.

Other spelling of this were also current, for example buckoo.

Boom  ‘Well in the boom’, to be popular where such popularity might lead to advancement in the ranks; regarded highly by one’s superior.

Army. Not otherwise recorded.

Boozer  (1) Public house or estaminet. (2) One addicted to the use of alcohol.

(1) General. From the late 19th century (Partridge).

Partridge notes this as being current in Australia since before World War I.

(2) General. From 1819 (OED).

Bosche  A German, especially a soldier.

This spelling of ‘Boche’ is recorded here and in Digger Dialects, and was a fairly common misspelling. Boche was French, and became a general World War I term for Germans, especially those in the German Army (OED). Attested in numerous sources.

This French slang word referring to Germans was taken up by the English press and public. F&G argue that Jerry and Fritz were more commonly used by the Army and Navy, and Hun by the Air Force. Elting argues that although this term was used by the American troops, they generally preferred ‘Heinie’, ‘Kraut’ or Fritz.

Boshter; Bosker  See ‘Bonzer’.

General Australian. ‘Boshter’ from 1903, ‘bosker’ from 1904 (AND).

Bott  (1) A cadger; a hanger on. (2) Plenty; much; many.

(1) General Australian. From 1916 (AND).

This was a figurative use of ‘bot’, a ‘parasitic worm or maggot’. It was used in 19th century Australian English in the sense of ‘a lurk’ or ‘a strategem’.

(2) This sense not otherwise recorded.

Bottling  See ‘Blood’s worth bottling.’

General Australian. From 1894 (AND).

This was a general term meaning ‘excellent’. It was also used in the phrase blood’s worth bottling.

*Bounce  (1) Arrogance; (2) ‘to come on the bounce’, make an arrogant demand.

(1) General. From 1714 (OED). Attested in numerous sources.

Adapted from the sense of ‘bounce’ as a ‘loud burst of noise’ to mean a ‘boast’ or ‘impudent self-assertion, swagger’.

(2) Attested here and in Digger Dialects but this sense not otherwise recorded.

Partridge records ‘on the bounce’ as being a World War I term meaning ‘on the spur of the moment; at the critical moment’, and Hargrave notes this as meaning ‘an opportune moment’.

*Bounce the ball  To assert oneself.

Attested here and in Digger Dialects but this precise sense not otherwise recorded.

Partridge records this as meaning ‘to test public opinion or sentiment’, since about 1920.

*Bowie-Knife Army  The American Expeditionary Force.

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

This is a reference to the large bowie-knives named after Jim Bowie, an American adventurer who fought and died at the Alamo in 1836. The bowie knife is one of the most aggressive fighting knives ever made.

Box-on  (1) A fight, a battle, a tussle. (2) An injunction to continue suspended action.

(1) World War I Australian (AND). Digger Dialects is the first recorded instance.

(2) World War I Australian (AND). Digger Dialects is the first recorded instance.

*Boy with his boots off  A shell which bursts before the sound of its passage through the air is heard.

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

Brads (Bradburys)  The £1 and 10/- (half-a-brad) currency notes bearing the signature of Sir John Bradbury.

General. ‘Bradbury’ from 1914 (OED). Attested in numerous sources.

The term ‘Bradbury’ was current from 1914 to approximately 1933, and derived from Sir John Bradbury, Secretary to the British Treasury, 1913–19. The pound notes were in circulated until 19287 and ceased to be legal tender in 1933. Interestingly, however, ‘brads’ was a generic name for money in circulation from the early 19th century (F&H, Partridge). F&H speculate that this originated among shoemakers, ‘brads’ being the small rivets or nails that they used. Paul Beale in Partridge suggests that this may have been an abbrevation of ‘darby’, a term meaning ‘easy money’.

*Branding-paddock  The parade ground.

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

Brass  Money.

General. From the late 16th century (Partridge). Attested in numerous sources.

Brass Hat  Senior Field or Staff Officers.

General army. From the late 19th century (Green).

The term derived from the gold lace embroidery officers had on their caps, and was used by the general soldiers. It was adopted by the US Army in World War I from the British Army (Elting).

*Brasso King An officer who insists that his men should assiduously polish the brass work on their equipment and uniforms.

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

*Breadwinners  Rifle.

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

Bride  A young lady, she with whom one is seen in company.

General. From 1935 (OED).

This is the earliest recorded instance.

Brig  Abbreviation of Brigadier.

Army. From 1899 in US (Lighter).

*Brigand  (French) A rascal.

General. From 1421 (OED).

This is a weakened form of the standard sense of ‘brigand’ as a ‘freebooter, bandit, desperado’.

Broads  Playing cards.

General. From 1789 (OED). Attested in numerous sources.

Broke to the wide  Financially embarrassed; devoid of cash.

General. From 1915 (Partridge). Attested in numerous sources.

*Broken-doll  An inefficient Staff-Officer returned to his unit.

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

Buck  Refuse.

General. Originally US from 1849 (Lighter). Attested in numerous sources.

This term came from the sense of ‘buck’ ‘to defy, resist’(DAE, Lighter), related to the British sense ‘to butt into, against’ (OED).

*Bucking-horse  Sovereign (coin). Derived from the impression of St. George and the Dragon.

Attested here and in Digger Dialects but not otherwise recorded.

Buckoo  Much, from French Beaucoup.

World War I. Corruption of the French. This spelling attested here and in Digger Dialects.

See Bookoo.

Bucks Bombardy  Badly torn or broken – from French Beaucoup Bombarde.

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

Buckshee  A prize, a catch, a windfall, something for nothing. From Hindi, bakhshi: giver, or bucksheesh: gift, tip.

General army. From the 19th century (Partridge). Attested in numerous sources.

This term was brought into English from the Hindustani (although originally Persian) by the British Army. It was especially popular in World War I.

*Bug House  Inferior.

World War I. This sense attested here and in Digger Dialects but not otherwise recorded.

This possibly derives from the US term ‘bug house’ referring’ to a ‘verminous lodging house’, current from 1852 (Lighter). It also was used to refer to an insane asylum, US, from 1899 (Lighter). Later this was applied to a ‘run-down cinema’ (Partridge, Green).

Bullet (Bristol)

World War I Flying. From 1914 (Cutlack).

Cutlack records that this was a particular type of plane. It was produced by the Bristol and Colonial Aeroplane Co. in 1914, and was a scout aeroplane. It was adopted as the standard training-machine of the Royal Naval Air Service.

Bullfodder  See ‘Bullshit’.

General Australian. Attested in Baker, Digger Dialects, and Green.

Digger Dialects is the first recorded instance of this euphemism for bullshit.

Bull Ring  Ground on which intensive training was carried out at Base Depots.

General World War I. Attested in Green, Elting, and Partridge.

This term, adapted from the standard sense of ‘bullring’ as a place where bull-fights took place, was used in World War I of the training areas where soldiers were sent for final training before going into the line. Green notes that this originally referred to a site at Etaples in Northern France where British soldiers were trained.

‘Ye Gods! Why do memories of the ‘Bull Ring’ and the front line mix themselves so, and come back to haunt me in my slumbers?’

1917 Hyde Park Boomerang No. 7, 23 March p. 4

*Bull Shit  Insincerity; [something] incorrect; flattery.

General. From 1915 (OED). Attested in numerous sources.

This possibly originated in the US and was certainly popular with the troops.

Bully  Abbreviation of bully beef. A name given to the preserved meat issued, usually in one pound tins.

General. From 1753 (OED). Attested in numerous sources.

This abbreviation of ‘bully beef’ dates back to the 18th century to refer to ‘pickled or tinned beef’. In World War I, according to F&G, such meat made up a significant part of soldiers’ rations.

*Bumbrusher  An Officer’s servant.

World War I Australian. First attested in Digger Dialects (AND).

Bumf  That portion of the enormous mass of official correspondence which was used for a more undignified purpose than originally intended. Later applied more generally to correspondence and literature of little value.

General World War I. Attested in numerous sources.

This was an abbrevation of ‘bumfodder’ current from 1889 as schoolboys’ slang for ‘toilet paper’. In the war it was applied to official correspondence, most of which was viewed as unnecessary. It has acquired general currency for paperwork since World War I. Also spelt ‘bumph’.

Bunch  A number, unit.

World War I. This use attested here and in Digger Dialects but not otherwise recorded.

This is a specific military use of ‘bunch’, ‘a company, group of persons’ which dates from 1622 (OED).

*Bunch of grapes  The club suit in a pack of cards.

Attested here and in Digger Dialects but not otherwise recorded.

Bung; Bung-hole  Cheese. So called by its alleged constipating effect.

General Services’. 20th century (Partridge). Attested in numerous sources.

Both terms are attested as meaning cheese, and seem largely to be used in the Services.

Bunk  (1) Abscond, or ‘do a bunk’. (2) Bed.

(1) General. From the 1890s (Partridge).

This term was popular in Australia (Dennis, S&O’B), especially in the phrase ‘bunk off’ (Partridge).

(2) General. Originally US. From 1758 (DAE, OED).

Bunk-up  A lifting up.

General. 20th century (Partridge, Green).

Burl  A try, a shot, a fair burl.

General Australian (AND). Digger Dialects is the first recorded instance.

See Birl.

Bus  A contraction of omnibus, applied in the army to aeroplane omnibuses or motor lorries used by the British Army.

World War I. Royal Flying Corps (for aeroplane, lorry sense not attested otherwise). Attested in numerous sources.

While first recorded in 1910, the term ‘bus’ referring to an aeroplane only became widespread in World War I and was airmen’s slang (B&P, Partridge). It was little used in World War II.

Butch  Doctor, abbreviation of butcher.

World War I military. ‘Butcher’ attested in numerous sources.

‘Butcher’ referring to a surgeon, and then any physician, was current in the US from 1849 (Lighter). In World War I, ‘butcher’ was widely used to refer to a medical officer. Elting notes that ‘butch’ was popularly used in the pre-World War II army.

*Butcher  The king in a pack of cards.

General. Possibly Australian in World War I, although British in the 19th century (Partridge).

Partridge records that this was public house slang in the 19th century but became obsolete. However, it continued to be current in Australia, especially among poker players.

Butt-in  To interfere, intrude.

General. Originally US. From 1899 (Lighter).

Buzz  To beg, cadge.

Attested here and in Digger Dialects but not otherwise recorded.

Although this precise sense is not recorded elsewhere, it may have developed from a 19th century sense meaning to ‘pick pockets’ (F&H, Partridge). Green also records this as US tramps’ (1910s to 1930s), meaning ‘to solicit handouts’.

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