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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N.B.G. No bloody good.

General. 20th century (Partridge). Attested in B&P, F&G, Green, and Partridge.

*Nail-scissors  The crossed sword and baton worn by a General.

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

Napoo  Finished, gone away.

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

This was a corruption of the French ‘il n’y en a plus’, ‘there is no more’. B&P continue ‘given in answer to enquiries for drink, when the estaminet keeper expected officers or colonial troops who would pay more. From this word came to be used for all the destructions, obliterations and disappointments of war’. F&G also note that this was ‘originally the French shopkeeper’s stock reply when asked for anything sold out.’

Nark  One who spoils a scheme; a spoil sport.

General. Mainly Australian. From 1846 (OED).  Attested in numerous sources.

This sense is chiefly Australian, although the OED records an 1846 usage (although the sense is unclear); the verb ‘to nark’ meaning ‘to thwart (a scheme, etc.)’ is Australian from 1891 (AND).

Nat Goulds  Reinforcements. So called because they have ‘landed at last’, the name of one of Gould’s books.

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

Nat Gould (1857-1919) was an Australian novelist whose books were very popular in the early 20th century. Many were about racing and other sporting activities. Landed at Last was indeed the title of one of his novels, and was applied here to a soldier’s reactions to the arrival of reinforcements.

Navel  See ‘Gutzer’.

Attested here and in Digger Dialects but not otherwise recorded.

This is a jocular euphemism for the more common Gutzer.

Ned Kelly’s Blood  Vin Rouge, red wine.

World War I. Attested here but not otherwise recorded.

Nip  To beg or borrow.

General Australian. From 1919 (AND). Attested in Digger Dialects, F&G, and Green.

‘To put the nips in’ was current in Australia and New Zealand from 1917 (AND). The verb ‘to nip’ meaning ‘to cadge’ was first recorded in Digger Dialects.

Nit  A policeman.

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

This is a more specific use of ‘nit’, ‘the egg or young form of a louse or other parasitic insect, especially the egg of a human head louse attached to a hair’, which was used generally as a term of contempt.

*Noah’s Doves  Reinforcements who were at sea and on their way to the war zone at the time the Armistice was signed.

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

*Nob  A double headed penny (‘two-up’).

General Australian. From 1903 (AND).

This derives from British slang ‘nob’ meaning ‘head’.

Nobby A nickname usually given to men named Clarke.

General. Originally naval. From the late 19th century (Partridge). Attested in F&G, Hargrave, and Partridge.

*No Farver, No Movver  A catch phrase which implies the remainder of the original expression in ‘the poor little fellow’ copied from begging boys in Eastern places.

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

No Good to Gundy  Of no advantage, ‘no good to me’.

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

The origin of this term is not known. Green provides the following possible etymologies: from the Welsh dialect ‘gundy’ meaning ‘to steal’, thus ‘not worth stealing’; a relict of the flood that devastated the town of Gundagai in 1852; from a comment by an Aborigine known as Gundy when rejecting a drink of whiskey; or from the rebuttal of a temperance preacher attempting to force his views on the populace of Gundagai.

*Nose Bag  See ‘Feed-bag’.

General World War I. From 1915 (OED).

This was a humorous term for ‘a gas mask’. See also Feed bag.

*Nose-Bleeds  Red gorget tabs worn by Staff Officers.

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

*Nose Dive   A vertical drop, nose first (of an aeroplane).

General Flying. From 1912 (OED).

Nose Well Down  In a great hurry.

General military. 20th century (Partridge). Attested in Digger Dialects, F&G, and Partridge.

This might derive from the sense of soldiers marching with their heads down, or as Arthur and Ramson in Digger Dialects suggest it is ‘a jocular emphatic formation on the aeronautical term “nose down”, “with the nose directed downward.”’

Nuggett  A short soldier.

General Australian in the sense of ‘a short person’. From 1852 (AND). Attested in numerous sources.

‘Nugget’was used of a ‘a small, stocky animal or person’ in Australia from the middle of the 19th century.

Number Nine  A purgative pill, the M.O.’s panacea.

General World War I. Attested in B&P, Digger Dialects, Hargrave, and PWWII.

This was a common term for a pill that cured all, and was used across the Services. Its origin is unknown.

Nut  (1) The head. (2)  A brainy person. (3) A funny person.

(1) General. From 1846 (OED).

(2) This sense attested here but not otherwise recorded.

Baker does record the term ‘nut-worker’ for ‘a man who uses his brains to avoid work or achieve some object.’

(3) General. Possibly originally US. From 1917 (Lighter).

This sense may well be originally American deriving from a vaudeville sense of ‘nut’ meaning ‘an eccentric comedian’, and thereafter applied to ‘a highly amusing person’ (Lighter). Baker and Partridge also record an Australian sense of ‘nut’ meaning ‘a young larrikin, a high-spirited young dare-devil’ which may be related to this sense, and possibly also (2).

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