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.

Filter by alphabet

All  A  B  C  D  E  F  G  H  I  J  K  L  M  N  O  P  Q  R  S  T  U  V  W  X  Y  Z


Dab  Expert, extremely proficient. An abbreviation of ‘dabster’.

General. From 1691 (OED). Attested in numerous sources.

The OED notes that this is frequently school slang, but its origin is unknown.

Daddies, the  The name applied to the British Labour Corps serving at Anzac. The personnel of these units were all above military age, or had been rejected for active service in fighting units.

Not otherwise recorded. See Old and the Bold.

Dag  Hard case, either as a humorist or disregarder of convention.

General Australian. From 1875 (AND). Attested in numerous sources.

The 1875 citation recorded in AND is the only pre-World War I citation of this sense of ‘dag’, and it is likely that it only became well established in Australian English during the war.

Dark  Mode of addressing especially those with dark hair or complexion.

General. From ca. 1880 (Partridge).

This is an abbreviation of ‘darky’ applied to ‘a white man with a dark skin’.

Date  (1) A term for the posterior orifice. (2) An appointment.

(1) Attested here and in Digger Dialects. Recorded in AND but next evidence is from 1961.

(2) General. Originally US. From 1885 (DAE).

F&G suggests that this US term was adopted by British servicemen during the war, at least partly from American cinema, but the OED suggests fairly widespread usage in Britain from the end of the 19th century.

*Dead Meat Ticket  See ‘Meat ticket’.

World War I. Attested here and in Green.

‘Dead meat’ for ‘a corpse’, or ‘a person facing certain death’ is originally US from 1865 (Lighter). ‘Cold meat ticket’ is recorded by F&G and is a variant of ‘dead meat ticket’, the soldier’s identity disc which recorded his name, regimental number and creed and was a means of identification should the wearer be killed. See Meat Ticket.

*Dear Auntie  A phrase signifying utter weariness or disgust. It implies the well-known text of a fictitious soldier’s letter: – ‘Dear Auntie, this ain't no ordinary war IT’S A BLOODY BASTARD, and if you want to see your little Johnny again, get right down on your knees, and pray like hell.’

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

Dear Bill  See ‘Dear Auntie’.

*Deep Thinker  A reinforcement who arrived in a fighting unit late in the course of the war.

World War I. Attested here and in Digger Dialects.

Although few dictionaries have picked up on this term, primary sources from the war attest to its currency.

O Anzacs, who have fought from the beginning

  And dowered your country with eternal praise,

A word to those who came to share your winning –

  The reinforcements of these later days.

They came because they saw that they were needed;

  It was not fame, not fortune, that they sought

Deep thinkers? Yes, but as the war proceeded

  So has there been the food for deeper thought.

1918 Aussie April 4 p. 9

Dial  Face.

General. From 1842 (OED). Attested in numerous sources.

Diehards, the  The men of the final parties in the evacuation of Anzac; or the men who worked to stay until the last.

World War I Australian. Not otherwise recorded in this specific sense.

F&G record that ‘the Diehards’ was used of the 57th Regiment of Foot in the British Army after an incident in 1811, when it fought to the death at Albuera. They note that 16 May was Albuera Day and was observed in the regiment’s memory. The Australian use of the term is almost certainly unrelated, but is a similar use of the idea that one should fight to the very end, and ‘die hard’.

Digger  Mate, friend. Used in the second or third person. This term had been in use on the Aust. gold fields, and New Zealand Kauri gum fields for many years prior to the war. It was not until the end of 1917 or early 1918 that it came into universal use in the A.I.F. or N.Z.E.F. The first to use the term, to any extent were the N.Zealanders from whom it quickly spread through the A.I.F.

This sense is World War I Australian. From 1916 (AND). Attested in numerous sources.

‘Digger’ was present in Australian English from 1849 to refer to ‘a miner’. It was revived in World War I to refer to an Australian soldier. The explanation given here as to how it was first used by New Zealanders has no supporting evidence. B&P note that the British troops used the term ‘digger’ to refer to Australian and New Zealand troops. In Australia after World War I, ‘digger’ became an official name for a veteran.

Dingbat  (1) Batman, servant. (2) Also used in the plural to indicate that the person referred to had ‘rats’ or was not speaking or acting in a rational manner.

(1) World War I Australian. Attested in Digger Dialects, F&G and Partridge.

This was a transferred use of (2).

(2) General Australian. First attested in New Zealand 1911, in Australia 1920 (AND). Attested in numerous sources.

‘Dingbat’ meaning a ‘crazy, eccentric, or foolish person’ was current from 1879 (Lighter), and in the Australian context was used to refer to ‘a simpleton; a halfwit’. The term was formed on ‘ding’ (as a bell) and ‘bat’ as in ‘bats in the belfry’. It was then found in the phrase ‘to have dingbats’, meaning to suffer from delusions, often as a result of delirium tremens (AND).

Dinkum  Good, genuine, honest.

General Australian. From 1908 (AND). Attested in numerous sources.

In Australian English, this is often used in the combination ‘fair dinkum’ as well, which was current from 1890 (AND), meaning ‘fair play’; and ‘dinkum oil’ meaning ‘genuine information’.

*Dinkum, The  The 2nd Division. Also applied to the New Zealanders.

World War I Australian. From 1916 (AND).

While this is attested in various sources, there seems to be some uncertainty as to who ‘the Dinkums’ actually were. B&P and Partridge suggest that this was used to refer to the soldiers at Gallipoli. C.E.W. Bean provides a different definition: ‘The sort of Australian who used to talk about our “tinpot navy” labelled the Australians who rushed at the chance of adventure the moment the recruiting lists were opened “the six bob a day tourists”. Well – the “Tourists” made a name for Australia such as no other Australians can ever have the privilege to make. The next shipment were the “Dinkums” – the men who came over on principle to fight for Australia – the real, fair dinkum Australians.’ (1917, cited in AND). This suggests that the Dinkums were the 2nd Division. It was principally the 1st Division that fought at Gallipoli, although the 2nd Division were there for a while.

Dinky-die An oath of truthfulness.

General Australian. From 1915 (AND).

This possibly first came into currency during World War I, as the first citational evidence in AND (for use as both an adjective and adverb) is in a Services context.

*Disaster  A piastre (Egyptian coin).

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

This is rhyming slang and was used by Australian and New Zealand troops in the Middle East during World War I. Partridge notes that it was revived again in World War II.

Divvy  (1) Abbreviation of ‘division’, meaning a military formation. (2) Abbreviation of  ‘dividend’, meaning one’s fair share.

(1) General military. From 1880 (Partridge).

Partridge notes this enjoyed great popularity in World War I.

(2) General. From 1872 (OED). Attested in numerous sources.

Dixie The container in which food was cooked.

General army. From 1900 (OED).

B&P provide the following definition: ‘A large iron pot, an oval cylinder (if such a thing can be) with an iron lid and a thin handle devised to bite into the hands when carrying. Stew, rice, porridge, soup and tea were boiled in the dixie; bacon and biscuit-pudding were cooked in the lid.’ It may date back to as early as 1879 when the Urdu word ‘dechsie’ meaning ‘a copper pot’ was first recorded (OED). As a general military term, however, it only came into currency during the Boer War.

Dizzy-limit  The last straw; incomparable; the height of ‘cheek’.

General Australian. Attested by Dennis in 1916 meaning ‘the utmost, the superlative degree’.

Partridge records this as only being current from 1930, as a variant of the ‘giddy limit’ meaning the utmost. Its use here, in Dennis, and in Lawson suggests an earlier usage.

Do; to do in  (1) To kill; to make away. (2) ‘Do your nut’, lose one’s head.

(1) General. From 1780 (OED). Attested in numerous sources.

(2) General. 20th century (Partridge).

This is recorded by Partridge as ‘lower classes’ and military’.

Do a bunk  See ‘bunk’.

General. Possibly originally US (Green). From 1860 (Partridge).

Dock  A military hospital.

General World War I. Attested in numerous sources.

This probably dates back to the sense of being ‘in dock’ when sailors had to return home for treatment when infected with venereal disease. It was obviously used more generally in World War I to refer to ‘a hospital’.

Dodger  Bread.

General Australian. From 1897 (AND). Attested in numerous sources.

Originally from a British dialect term ‘dodge’ meaning ‘a large cut or slice of food’, it may also have entered Australia through the US which had the term ‘corn-dodger’ meaning ‘a cake of corn bread’ from the 1830s.

*Doer  A person unusually humorous, reckless, undisciplined, immoral or eccentric.

General Australian. From 1902 (AND). Attested in numerous sources.

This was a popular Australian term, and was a transferred use of ‘doer’, ‘an animal that does well, thrives’.

*Dog fever  A mild form of influenza.

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

Arthur and Ramson in Digger Dialects suggests this might be ‘akin to dog’s disease, an Australian expression for any of a number of ailments, which dates from the 1890s’.

Dog’s-leg  A lance corporal’s stripe. So called on account of its shape.

General military. From the late 19th century (Partridge). Attested in Digger Dialects and F&G.

Partridge defines this as ‘the chevron that designates a non-commissioned rank’.

Doings  (1) A place, billet or trench. (2) A circumstance; an affair.

(1) This specific sense attested here and in Digger Dialects but not otherwise recorded.

Possibly a transferred sense of ‘doings’ first used as war slang meaning ‘applied to any concomitant, adjunct, or “etcetera”, or anything that happens to be “about” or to be wanted’ (OED).

(2) General. From the 14th century (OED).

This is an adaptation of the general sense of ‘doings’ as ‘a deed, act, action, performance, transaction, proceeding, piece of business’.

Doll up  Ornament.

General. From 1906 (OED). Attested in numerous sources.

Dolphin (Sopwith)

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

Produced in 1917, the Sopwith ‘Dolphin’ was another aeroplane used by the Australians.

Domino  (1) To kill. (2) To knock out.

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

(2) General. From ca. 1870 (Partridge).

Arthur and Ramson in Digger Dialects suggest that both these senses might be related to ‘the exclamatory use of “domino!” to express completion, or to it is domino (with) “it is all up (with), it is the end (of)”, both deriving from the game of dominoes.’

Don Ack Plonk  Divisional Ammunition Column (D.A.C.) ‘Don Ack’ is the Army method of pronouncing D.A. and ‘plonk’ may have originated as a rhyme for ‘donk’, the D.A.C.’s containing many mules. Another possible derivation is the adaption of the sound made by the sinking of the mule’s leg into the mud.

World War I. Attested here but not otherwise recorded.

Dong  To hit, to punch.

General Australian. From 1916 (AND). Attested in numerous sources.

This is a figurative use of ‘dong’, ‘the sound made by a bell or clock’ and probably a play on the British dialect ‘ding’, ‘to strike, beat’ (AND).

Donk  Mule. The average Australian soldier would rarely refer to anything by its proper name if he could find another as expressive.

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

‘Donk’ as an abbrevation for ‘donkey’ was current in the US from 1868 (Lighter), suggesting an earlier usage than that recorded in Australia. The term probably enjoyed some popularity in World War I as donkeys and mules were often used as pack animals. They did such work as carting water and meals, and carrying wounded soldiers.

Donk’s Dingbat  A mule groom or driver.

World War I. Attested here but not otherwise recorded.

See Donk and Dingbat.

Dook  Hand.

General. From 1874 (Partridge). Attested in numerous sources.

This is a variant pronunciation of ‘duke’ meaning ‘hand or fist’, a term of uncertain origin. The ‘dook’ pronunciation seems more prevalent in the 20th century.

Dook ’im one  To salute an officer.

World War I. Attested here but not otherwise recorded.

*Dook it  Shake hands.

This precise version is attested here and in Digger Dialects but not otherwise recorded.

‘Duke’ as a verb meaning ‘to shake hands in welcome or congratulation’ dates back to 1865 (OED) and is common in the US (Lighter). There is also the Australian ‘have one’s dook on it’ meaning ‘to seal a bargain by shaking hands’ (Baker and Partridge).

Dope  (1) One who is absent-minded or eccentric. (2) Information. (3) Line of conduct. (4) Liquor. (5) Poison.

(1) General. From 1851 (OED).

Lighter explains that although the word ‘dope’ is popular in the US in the 20th century, it probably derived from the idea of ‘dope’ as ‘one addicted to drugs’ rather than a British origin in regional dialect, which is the source suggested by the OED. Thus it seems that while the term was used in this sense in both Britain and the US, it derived from different sources.

(2) General. Originally US. From 1901 (DAE and Lighter).

This was particularly used in the sense of ‘fraudulent information’, and possibly derived from the Dutch ‘doop’ meaning sauce.

(3) Attested here but not otherwise recorded.

(4) General. From the middle of the 19th century (Green).

‘Dope’ more commonly refers to drugs, but also occasionally was used to refer to alcohol, and, according to Green, especially whiskey. This probably derives from the same source as (2).

(5) General. Originally US. From 1872.

*Dopey  (1) Dazed, bemused. (2) Lacking in vitality.

(1) This precise sense attested here but not otherwise recorded.

This is probably derived from the sense of being ‘drugged or as if drugged’, and hence ‘groggy, sleepy’ (US, from 1896, Lighter). Hargrave records this as meaning a ‘fool; inefficient soldier’.

(2) General. Originally US. From 1903 (Lighter).

‘Dopey’ derives from dope (see sense (1) especially).

Dough  Money.

General. Originally US. From 1851 (DAE and Lighter). Attested in numerous sources.

Partridge suggests this came into use in Australia from ca.1880 and in Britain from ca. 1895. It certainly had become generally used by World War I. It is a figurative use of dough (‘uncooked or unleavened bread’).

Douse the glim  Put out the light.

General. From the 18th century (Partridge). Attested in numerous sources.

*Down South  (1) Hidden, buried. (2) In one’s pocket.

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

A more general use of (2).

(2) General. From 1890 (Partridge).

Down, to have a down on  To have a grudge against; to take a dislike to.

General Australian. From 1828 (AND). Attested in numerous sources.

This was originally British criminal cant; James Hardy Vaux records ‘down’ as ‘a suspicion, alarm, or discovery’ in 1812.

Draft Up, Draft Vertical  See ‘Wind up’ [no entry].

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

There is no entry for ‘wind up’ but several variants of the term appeared in World War I: ‘get or have (got) the wind up’ meaning ‘to get frightened or alarmed’; ‘put the wind up (someone)’ meaning ‘to scare or greatly frighten’ and ‘the wind up’ meaning ‘nervousness, anxious excitement’. ‘Draft up’ was presumably a variation of ‘wind up’.

Dragging spare  Surplus, i.e. ‘Is anything dragging spare?’ Sometimes abbreviated to ‘dragging’.

Not otherwise recorded.

Dreadnought  V.D. prophylactic outfit issued to troops before departing on leave.

General. From 1908 (Partridge). Also attested in Green.

Partridge suggests that this derives from the British battleship Dreadnought, the first of a new type of battleship that was bigger, faster, and carried more guns than previous ships. How this came to be applied to prophylactics is unclear.

*Duckboard  (1) A wooden frame about five feet long and 18" wide, on which are nailed crosswise, short pieces of wood in the form of a grating. (2) The Military Medal Ribbon was frequently referred to by this term.

(1) General World War I. From 1917 (OED), but see citation below. Attested in numerous sources.

Duckboards were used in trenches to allow easy movement over marshy and muddy ground. F&G suggest this might derive from ‘a resemblance to the sloping boards leading up to duck houses at the edge of a pond’.

You do not walk on the bottom of the trench as you did in Gallipoli, but on a narrow wooden causeway not unlike the bridge on which ducks wander down from the henhouse to the yard – indeed it is colloquially known as the ‘duck-boards’.

1916 C.E.W. Bean in Anzac Bulletin No. 2 July 12

(2) General World War I. Attested in B&P, Digger Dialects, and Partridge.

Partridge explains that this derived from the medal’s arrangement of colours.

*Duck’s Breakfast  A drink of water and a wash.

World War I. Attested in Digger Dialects and DNZE.

Baker and Partridge record the variant ‘duck’s dinner’ meaning ‘a drink of water without anything to eat’.

Duck’s Disease   A description of a person’s physical build, indicating that his legs are short and his buttocks are too near the ground.

General army. From 1910 (Partridge). Attested in numerous sources.

*Duck’s egg  A half piastre nickel coin.

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

Arthur and Ramson explain: ‘A duck’s egg (in short duck) is a score of nought. In this instance it refers to the value of the coin’.

Dud (1) A shell that fails to explode. (2) An incapable person; no good.

(1) General World War I. Attested in numerous sources.

(2) General. From 1825 (OED).

(2) seems to have become more popular after World War I, and its sense was revived by and linked to (1). The term possibly derives, Arthur and Ramson in Digger Dialects suggest, from ‘duds’ meaning ‘clothes, rags’.

Dug in  In a safe position.

General World War I. From 1919 (OED).

This seems to have first come into usage in World War I (the first evidence is Digger Dialects).

Dugout  (1) One who avoids danger by trying to remain out of the danger zone or, if in the forward area, by rarely leaving his shelter. (2) Also applied to elderly returned officers called up for service at the outbreak of war. (3) ‘Dug-out King’ – an officer who remains at the bottom of a dug-out while his men are exposed to danger.

(1) General World War I. Attested in numerous sources.

(2) General World War I. Attested in numerous sources.

(3) World War I Australian. Attested in Hargrave and Partridge.

These senses were derived from the idea of a ‘dug-out’ as an ‘underground shelter’, often part of the trenches.

*Dug-up Found (usually an absentee).

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

Updated:  19 October 2017/Responsible Officer:  Head of School/Page Contact:  CASS Marketing & Communications