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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*Cab Rank  Transport lines.

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

Elting records a World War I flying sense meaning ‘flight line’ and the OED suggests that the standard ‘cab rank’ (‘a row of cabs on a stand’) was transferred to a line of aircraft waiting in readiness. Partridge records a World War II sense of a line of ships – motor launches, motor torpedo boats, etc.

Cadorna  See ‘Gutzer’. Came into use after the defeat of Gen. Cadorna the Italian Commander-in-Chief.

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

This was used in the same way as gutzer and was probably shortlived. It referred to the Italian chief of general staff, Luigi Cadorna (1850–1928), who was recalled and placed on half pay after the defeat of the Italian Army at Caporetto (Arthur and Ramson in Digger Dialects).

Cage  Prisoner of War compound.

World War I military. Attested in Partridge.

‘Cage’ dates back to the 17th century as a term for ‘a prison’ or ‘lock-up’ (Partridge, DAE). This was a specific use of the term, which was also popular in World War II.

Cake in Gaol  see ‘Flowers on his Grave’.

Not otherwise recorded.

Camel (Sopwith)

World War I Flying. Attested in Digger Dialects, F&G, and Cutlack.

This was a small scouting aeroplane, designed by the Sopwith firm in 1916, and used in combat from 1917. It was called the Camel due to the humped fairing over its twin machine guns. It was a popular fighter plane, although it was a difficult plane to fly and many inexperienced pilots died during training. The No. 4 Australian Squadron used this type of plane.

*Camel-dung  Egyptian cigarettes.

General. From 1903 (OED), but not widely attested.

*Camouflaged Aussie  An Englishman serving with the A.I.F.

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

The term ‘camouflage’ in English was a new one, only being used from 1917 (OED).

*Cane-up  Damaged, harrass, goad. See ‘tripe roared out.’

Not otherwise recorded.

Canned  Intoxicated.

General. From 1910 (Partridge, Green).

A World War I army variation was ‘canned up’, attested in F&G and Partridge.

*Cark sucker  An American soldier.

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

‘Cock sucker’ as a general term of abuse is originally US, from 1910 (Green). This spelling is also attested only here and in Digger Dialects, but is probably an attempt to imitate the American pronunciation of ‘cock’.

Cartwheel  Five Franc Piece; a silver coin of a large size.

Of a large coin, general, from 1867 (OED). Attested in numerous sources. This sense World War I, attested here but not otherwise recorded.

‘Cartwheel’ was widely used of a large coin, especially a five shilling or crown piece (F&H, Partridge). In the 19th century US it was used of a silver dollar (DAE, Green).

Cat-sou  Twopence, from the French Quatre Sous.

World War I. Corruption of the French, ‘quatre sous’, ‘four sous’. Attested here and in Digger Dialects but not otherwise recorded.

Partridge and F&G record the term ‘catsood’ being used in World War I to mean ‘drunk’. F&G explain that ‘cat-sou’ was the price of a drink at an estaminet, and although the price was raised later, the name stuck.

*Celluloid  Money. The inference being its rapid burning propensities.

Attested here and in Digger Dialects but not otherwise recorded.

Centre  The amount of money staked on the toss of the coin in two-up.

World War I Australian. Not otherwise recorded.

AND and Baker record this as a two-up term, but it usually refers to ‘the central part of the ring, where the spinner stands and bets with the spinner are taken’.

*C’est la Guerre  ‘It’s the war’ (a phrase used on every and any occasion).

World War I catchphrase. Attested in Digger Dialects, Elting, and Partridge.

Charlie Chap A moustache resembling that of the famous film comedian [Charlie Chaplin].

World War I military. Attested in Partridge.

Partridge notes that this was typically used of an officer’s moustache.

Chat  (1) The vermin that infested clothing, blankets, and dug-outs. (2) To search clothing for chats.

(1) General. From 1690 as thieves’ cant (OED), but World War I Australian from 1916 (AND). Attested in numerous sources.

‘Chat’ meaning ‘louse’ was a British slang term from the 19th century which dates back to 1690 as cant, but came into widespread use, particularly amongst the Australian troops, during World War I.

Next parcel, please don’t forget some life buoy and Mortien for it is almost impossible to keep free from chats as we call them. They keep us awake at nights & we have to fasten a rope round a gun on to our legs to keeps them from running away with us.

William John Duffell, Letter to his Mother, 1916.

(2) World War I Australian. From 1919 (AND).

Chat  To tell a person something. See ‘hard word’.

General. From the 15th century (OED).

The general sense of ‘chat’ as ‘to talk idly, to chatter’ has been part of the English language for centuries. The sense here seems to be slightly different, and possibly relates more to the sense of ‘chat’ as ‘to talk to, advise, approach or address tentatively, flirt with’ which is a mostly 20th century sense.

Chatty  Verminous underclothing.

Recorded in 1812 but revived in World War I. Attested in Green.

From the noun ‘chat’, this was probably used by the Australian troops to describe their clothes when infested with lice. It is not well attested, however.

Cheer-oh, Cheerio  Keep your pecker up, don’t be downhearted.

General. From 1910 (OED). Attested in numerous sources.

While pre-dating the war, this was probably popular during the war. Both F&G and B&P record it as being a word much used by the Services’ during World War I.

*Chew the rag  To suffer chagrin.

General military. From 1885 (OED). Attested in numerous sources.

The phrase ‘chew the rag’, similar to ‘chew the fat’, meaning ‘to grumble, discuss complainingly’ was often used in a military context (OED, Partridge).

*Chip  Taunt, ask an unpleasant question, make an uncomplimentary remark.

General Australian. From the late 19th century (Green, Partridge). Attested in Baker, Digger Dialects, Green and Partridge.

Probably derived from ‘chip at’ meaning ‘to make (a person) the object of a joke; to chaff, banter; to find fault with’ which dates from 1888 (OED).

Chiv  Chin or jaw.

General Australian. From 1902 (AND).

This is a more exact reference to the chin or jaw, but ‘face’ is attested in numerous sources. ‘Chiv’ comes from rhyming slang, ‘chevy chase’ for ‘face’.

Chivoo  A celebration.

General Australian. From 1844 (AND).

Generally spelt ‘shivoo’, this spelling is attested only here and in Digger Dialects. The word might have come from the British dialect ‘shiveau’ and the French ‘chez vous’ meaning ‘at your place’ and used to refer to ‘a party or celebration’ (AND).

Chocs The 8th Brigade, A.I.F. [Known as] ‘Tivey’s chocolate soldiers’.

World War I Australian. From 1915 (AND).

Arthur and Ramson in Digger Dialects provide the following explanation: ‘A shortening of “chocolate soldiers”, a name jokingly applied to the 8th Infantry Brigade of the Australian Imperial Force, which arrived in Egypt after the Gallipoli campaign. The allusion was to the chocolate (cream) soldier (a soldier who will not fight) of G.B. Shaw’s Arms and the Man. The Brigade was under the command of Colonel Edwin Tivey (1866–1847).’

*Chop  Share. ‘To hop in for one’s chop’, to enter in, in order to secure a privilege or benefit.

General Australian. From 1919 (AND). Attested in Digger Dialects, Green,and Lawson.

Chop in  Take a part, interfere.

General. From the 16th century (OED).

Probably from the sense of ‘chop in’ as ‘to “strike” in, thrust oneself in, enter forcibly, intervene, break in with a remark’. This doesn’t appear to be particularly well attested in the 20th century.

*Christen the squirt  To bayonet a man for the first time with that particular bayonet.

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

The idea of ‘to christen’ meaning ‘to use for the first time’ dates back to the late 19th century (Green), while ‘squirt’ is Australian for ‘revolver’ from 1899 and possibly transferred here to a bayonet.

*Chuck a seven  See ‘Throw a seven’.

General Australian. From 1908 (AND). Attested in Digger Dialects, Green, and Partridge.

See Throw a Seven.

Chuck it up  Give in, surrender.

General. From 1878 (OED).

This comes from ‘chuck up (the sponge)’ in sense of ‘give in, give up, yield’ and the variant ‘chuck it’, ‘to adandon’.

Chum, Choom  Form of address amongst English troops, used by Australians as a nickname for Englishmen.

‘Chum’ general from 1634 (Partridge); ‘choom’ World War I Australian from 1916 (AND).

B&P argue that ‘chum’ was more popular with the troops during World War I than either ‘mate’ or ‘pal’. The Australian and New Zealand troops picked up a British dialect pronunciation ‘choom’ for ‘chum’ and would use it to address unknown English soldiers.

We trotted along in silence, and I was wondering if our leader had lost the trail, when a point of light pulsed in the darkness, away to the left. Tom and I spurred our nags, and overtook the wagon. ‘Hulloa! Choom, what’s wrong?’ asked the driver, pulling up.

1918 Kia Ora Coo-ee No. 2 April 15 p. 20

*Circus  A flying squadron.

General World War I. Attested in numerous sources.

F&G define ‘circus’ thus: ‘The name given colloquially in the Air Force in the War to any specially selected squadron which cruised from one point on the Front to another whenever offensive air strength was required’. The term was more widely adopted, and was particularly associated with the squadron under the command of Baron von Richtofen.

Civvys; civvies  (1) Civilian people. (2) Clothes.

(1) General. From 1895 (Partridge). Attested in numerous sources.

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

Both terms obviously gained new relevance and popularity in World War I.

Click  To promiscuously make the acquaintance of a young lady.

General World War I. From 1915 (OED). Attested in numerous sources.

This was usually used in the sense of striking up a temporary liason between two people of the opposite sex. It is a figurative use of the sound ‘click’.

Clickety-click  Number 66 in the game of ‘House’.

General. 20th century, possibly Services’ (Partridge). Attested in Digger Dialects, Green, and Partridge.

Clinah Girl. This term with most others with the same meaning was in use in Australia before the war.

General Australian. From 1895 (AND).

Most commonly spelt ‘cliner’, this word was common in Australia until the middle of the 20th century.  This entered Australian English from the German ‘kleine’ meaning ‘small’ (AND).

Clink  Prison, field punishment compound, or guard room.

General. From 1515 (OED). In military sense of a ‘detention cell’, from 1880 (Partridge).

The original ‘clink’ was a large prison in Southwark which was burned down in the Gordon Riots in 1780 and was thence applied to other prisons.

My word, these Australian boys of yours love their homes! Numbers of chaps when going into ‘clink’ (gaol) or to the camp hospitals, bring me their pocket-books containing the photos. of their loved ones, and say, ‘Will you take care of this for me,please?

1919 The Army that Went with the Boys p. 144

Clobber  Clothes.

General. From 1879 (OED). Attested in numerous sources.

Although a widespread slang word, this enjoyed a new popularity amongst the soldiers in World War I. It probably entered English from the Yiddish, and was initially a word used primarily by Jewish and Cockney people (Partridge).

Clout  A wound or hit.

General. From 1400 (OED).

‘Clout’ meaning ‘a heavy blow’ is Standard English. It was widely adopted in World War I.

Coal box  A type of German shell from which, upon explosion, a dense cloud of smoke (black) emanated.

General World War I. Attested in numerous sources.

B&P explain that the name derived from the black smoke which the exploded shell emitted.

On the latter of the two ‘second nights’, they had a narrow escape: five minutes after they had left their well-finished trench, they heard a nice little ‘strafe’ going on there, ‘coal-boxes’ as well as ‘whizz-bangs’ delighting the German gunners with the damage that they were presumed to be doing.

1929 Frank Honywood, Private p. 83

Cobber  Mate, friend. Used in the second or third person. Was largely superseded as a mode of address by ‘Digger’.

General Australian. From 1893 (AND). Attested in numerous sources.

As I gaze on Bill, me cobber, sure I smile a little smile, For his happy, careless nature doesn’t fit the poet’s style; No, he don’t resemble Caesar in his looks or in his speech, Nor Napoleon nor Cromwell - why, they ain’t within his reach

He's a decent sort of cobber, but he doesn't push a claim

To be classed ‘ a gallant guardian of Britain’s honoured name’

1916 The Anzac Book p.151

Coffin nails  Cigarettes.

General US. From 1888 (OED, Lighter). Attested in numerous sources.

In World War I and beyond, Partridge notes, this was sometimes shortened to just ‘nail’.

*Cog-wheels  ‘To have cog-wheels’, to be demented.

Attested here and in Digger Dialects but not otherwise recorded.

*Coil-up  To go to sleep.

US, from 1862 (Lighter).

This term is not well attested.

Cold  Dead.

General. From at least the 17th century (OED).

Cold feet  Fear. ‘Coldfooter’, one who was afraid to enlist for active service.

‘Cold feet’ general. Originally US. From 1896 (DAE, OED). ‘Coldfooter’ World War I,  Australian, from 1916 (AND).

‘Cold feet’ meaning ‘fear, cowardice’ dated back to the 19th century in the US, but gained wide currency in World War I for obvious reasons. ‘Coldfooter’ was an Australianism for a person who refused to enlist.

*Cold storage  ‘To go into cold storage’, to be killed during the 1916 winter.

Attested here and in Digger Dialects but not otherwise recorded.

A short-lived phrase, it was a play on the more standard sense of cold storage, ‘a means of preserving perishables’. Green records this as a 20th century term for ‘death’.

College  Nickname for 39 General Hospital and No. 2 Stationery Hospital, when venereal disease was the chief if not the only ailment treated. A soldier who received full treatment was regarded as having graduated.

World War I. Attested here but not otherwise recorded.

The No. 2 Auxiliary Stationary Hospital was located in South London and dealt primarily with soldiers who had lost limbs; the No. 39 General Hospital was primarily a venereal disease hospital, and was located in Bulford, England.

Column of lumps  In disorderly formation.

General army. From 1899 (Partridge). Attested in Digger Dialects and Partridge.

Partridge notes that ‘column of lumps’ was favored by the Canadian Army from 1915. Another variation on this was column of blobs. Both of these were jocular variants of the standard ‘column of route’.


Come-at  Undertake.

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

*Come Over  Deliver, ‘of the enemy to attack’.

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

This is possibly related to the idea of going ‘over the top’ (see Top (1)) and Over the bags.

*Come the Double  Demand one’s due after having already received it.

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

*Comforts Fund  Shells.

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

This is no doubt an ironic play on the Australian Comforts Fund, an organisation established in 1914 to provide aid to soldiers. It raised money for needed purchases, and made clothes for the troops. It lasted until January 1920.

Common-tally-plunk  ‘How are you’. A mutilation of the French ‘comment-allez-vous’.

World War I. Corruption of the French. Attested here and in Hargrave.

Hargrave records the term ‘come on tally plonk’.

Comme sa Like that. From the French, ‘comme ça’.

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

Comme si, comme sa  So-so, indifferently. From the French, ‘comme ci, comme ça’.

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

Compree  Understand. From the French, ‘compris’.

General World War I. Corruption of the French. Attested in Digger Dialects and Partridge.

Conchy  A conscientious objector to the Military Service Act of 1916.

General World War I. From 1917 (OED). Attested in numerous sources.

This has the variant spellings ‘conchie’, ‘conshie’ and ‘conshie’. As Australia never introduced conscription, there was no need for conscientious objection in World War I. In the US, the World War I draft law exempted from combat those who came from peace churches, such as the Quakers. Such conscripts still had to perform military service, and as there was no alternative service program in place, they performed medical and menial work. Britain introduced conscription in 1916, but as it was a potentially controversial move, they made provisions for conscientious objection.

*Concrete macaroon  Army biscuits.

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

This is no doubt a jocular reference to the hardness of the army biscuits provided as part of a soldier’s rations.

Cooler  Prison or guard room.

General. Originally US. From 1872 (Lighter). Attested in numerous sources.

Lighter notes that this originally referred to a jail or lock-up, but from 1899 it might also refer to a solitary confinement cell. It became popular in World War I with the Services to refer to a guard room or detention cell (Partridge).

Cool off  To take things easily.

This precise sense not otherwise recorded.

This is probably a slight variation on the general ‘cool off’ meaning ‘to calm down’ or ‘to become less zealous or ardent’. It dates to the middle of the 19th century, and is originally US (Green, OED).

Cooties  Lice, chats.

General World War I. From 1917 (OED).

This possibly had an earlier currency (Lighter, B&P) but was widely used in the military and press by 1917. The term continued to have some currency after World War I, particularly in the US (Green). Its etymology is unclear. The OED suggests that it might derive from the Malay ‘kuti’, ‘a parasitic biting insect’, but Lighter argues that this connection is tenuous.

*Corpse Factory  The Western Front.

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

This term, first attested in Digger Dialects, gained some broader currency after the war as ‘a place where many people are slaughtered’ (OED).

*Cough-up  (1) Part with. (2) Speak.

(1) General. Originally US. From 1890 (Lighter). Attested in numerous sources.

Of the two sense provided here, this is the more widely attested.

(2) General. Originally US. From 1896 (Lighter and OED).

This was generally used in the sense of ‘to speak frankly, to divulge’.

*Coushay Sleep. ‘Coushay full marching order’, to go to bed with one’s clothing on.

World War I. Corruption of the French, ‘coucher’. Attested here and in Digger Dialects but not otherwise recorded.

Cow  The vilest of invective. To refer to anything as a ‘fair cow’ was the worst that could be said of it.

General Australian. From 1864 (AND). Attested in numerous sources.

AND provides the following definition: ‘A term of abuse applied to any person, situation, or thing to which the speaker takes, or pretends to take, exception; often used good-humouredly.’

Cowpunt Road  Horseferry Road, the location of the A.I.F. H.Q. in London and abhorred by the fighting forces.

World War I Australian. Attested here but not otherwise recorded.

Horseferry Road, London, was set up as AIF headquarters in 1916. It dealt with all the paperwork relating to AIF personnel. Soldiers on leave in London went there to collect pay and a new uniform. The Oxford Companion to Australian Military History records the following verse from an Australian World War I song that illustrated the soldiers feelings about Horseferry Road:

He went up to London and straight away strode To Army headquarters on Horseferry Road, To see all the bludgers who dodge all the strafe

By getting soft jobs on the headquarters staff.

*Crabs  (1) Shells, shelling. (2) Parasites.

(1) World War I Australian. Attested in Digger Dialects.

This is an abbrevation of ‘crab-shell’, alluding to artillery shells, and is usually found in the phrase ‘to draw the crabs’, ‘to attract enemy fire’ (from 1918, AND).

(2) General. From 1707 (OED). Attested in numerous sources.

This is an abbrevation of ‘crab-louse’.

Crack  (1) Hit; punch. (2) ‘Cracked’, crazy.

(1) General. From 1836 (OED).

Dennis records this sense in his 1916 glossary, suggesting some currency in Australia.

(2) General. From 1611 (OED). Attested in numerous sources.

Crash  To suffer misfortune. See ‘Gutzer’.

General. From 1817 (OED).

*Cream puffs  Shell bursts.

World War I. Attested in Dickson and Digger Dialects.

Dickson records this as an airman’s term.

Crool the Pitch  To spoil a chance, or the further exploitation of some enterprise.

World War I Australian. Attested here and in AND.

‘Cruel’ (as a verb) is used much in the same way and is well attested in Australian English from 1899. ‘Crool the pitch’ is recorded here and in one AND citation dating to 1915. Partridge suggests ‘cruel the pitch’ may have its origins in cricket.

Crow-eater  A South Australian.

General Australian. From 1881 (AND). Attested in numerous sources.

Crumby  Infested by lice.

General. From 1859 (OED). Attested in numerous sources.

This is often spelt as ‘crummy’.

Crump  Explosion of a heavy shell.

General World War I. From 1914 (OED). Attested in numerous sources.

This was an adaptation of the British dialect ‘crump’ meaning ‘a heavy blow’. It was also used as a verb, meaning ‘to bombard with heavy shells’.

Crush  Unit, i.e. ‘what crush do you belong to?’

General Army. Attested in numerous sources.

F&G and Partridge suggests this dates back to the nineteenth century, however, OED’s first evidence is from 1916. F&G records this as a colloquial term among soldiers, generally in referring to their own regiments.

Cushy  Soft, easy, safe, comfortable, the ‘cushy job’.

General Services’. No recorded evidence pre-World War I, but possibly Indian Army (Partridge). Attested in numerous sources.

This may be an Indian army word, as it is possibly originally from Hindustani (‘khush’, ‘pleasant’). It became popular in World War I, and has subsequently gained wide currency in the English language.

I wish the politicians, especially the talkers, could get three months’ duty at the various fronts – not ‘cushy jobs’ as the soldier puts it - but just the ordinary rough and tumble work and life of the ordinary soldier.

1919 [C. Duguid] The Desert Trail p. 72

Cut  See ‘chop’.

General. Possibly originally US. From 1918 (OED). Attested in numerous sources.

Cuthbert  A man with a cushy job in a government office, especially one who avoided military service on the score of occupation. Personal name supposedly suggestive of effeminacy.

General. From 1917 (OED). Attested in numerous sources.

F&G provide the following explanation: ‘A name in the War, coined by “Poy”, the cartoonist of the Evening News, and colloquially adopted by way of contempt for fit men of military age, particularly in Government Offices, who had been “combed out” for the Army. ... In “Poy’s” cartoon the “Cuthberts” were represented as frightened looking rabbits.’ ‘Cuthbert’ was also used to refer to a conscientious objector.

Cut-it-out  Desist.

General. From 1850 (Partridge).

*Cut-off  ‘To push in one’s cut-off’, to stop talking.

Attested here and in Digger Dialects but not otherwise recorded.

*Cut-throats  See ‘nose-bleeds’.

Attested here and in Digger Dialects but not otherwise recorded.

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