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Burgoo, cushy, and other oojah
Posted: 25 June 2007 04:36 PM   [ Ignore ]
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I came across a nice old article from the The Washington Post (22 Jul 1917) in which an orderly from a British army hospital goes into detail about the frustrations with trying to understand the new lingo used by soldiers (referred to as “Tommy Atkins") in the hospital, from rhyming slang to imitations of words picked up from Hindustani or other Indo-Persian languages.

Favorite quotation: “I fear that the rhyming slang fashion is all too deeply established : our recruits are carrying it far and wide, and its entry into the civilian language will be one of the least satisfactory souvenirs of Armageddon.”

Ward Muir’s Observations of an Orderly goes into much more detail and the history behind these terms and others, such as tank-wallah, blotto, and jammy. I wonder if Muir wrote the Washington Post article too.

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Lost for Words

[ Edited: 26 June 2007 06:36 AM by etymolog ]
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Posted: 25 June 2007 04:37 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]
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Here is the Washington Post article in full:

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War Brings New Lingo

British Soldiers Enjoy Slang as Hospital Pastime.—Talk In Strange Metaphor—Visit to Operating Room Known as “Going to the Pictures”—Recruits From All Parts of World Add to New Language of Army Life in Europe.

London, July 21.-- An entirely new crop of slang has come into force in the British army during the past year. They have taken the place of “blighty” and the rest of the picturesque synonyms that were uppermost a year or so ago. A hospital orderly writes about them as follows:

“There is a brand of cheap cigarettes, popular in the army, known by the name of ‘Singles to Woking.’ The allusion enwrapped in this mild witticism is typical of the oblique mischievousness which characterizes the best of Tommy’s slang. Tommy has a passion for what one might call the pseudo-grumble. He is a grouser who doesn’t mean his grousing to be taken seriously.

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Jokes of “Danger Last.”

“Having served for two terms as an orderly in a war hospital, I may claim to speak with some assurance of that lovable, absurd, cheery malcontent - the British soldier. I have heard him crack jokes about a timber shortage, for instance. Can you guess why? Because he had found out that officially he was on what is known as the Danger List (and let me say that only a hero could crack jokes when in such a state as to be on the Danger List), and was voicing the charming theory that he might be ‘bilked of a coffin.’ That is our fearless and macabre Mr. Atkins all over. Another of his war hospital pleasantries is to announce that he is ‘going to the pictures.’ This is the regular phrase for the visit to the operating theater. And isn’t it rather fine?

“But I wish Tommy would rid himself of his habit of using rhyming slang. It is a curse, this vast list of synonyms which, I can only surmise, originated somewhere far back in the thieves’ latin of the tramp. Both the old army and the new are in the thraldom of the inane lingo. ‘Chevvy chase’ means ‘face,’ ‘mince pie’ means ‘eye,’ ‘false alarm’ means ‘arm,’ ‘almond rocks’ means ‘socks,’ ‘daisy root’ means ‘boot.’ I could (for my sins) continue the dismal catalogue down a column.

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Calls Mask His Oojah.

“Heaven forbid that I should perpetuate such a monument of silliness; but, indeed, I fear that the rhyming slang fashion is all too deeply established : our recruits are carrying it far and wide, and its entry into the civilian language will be one of the least satisfactory souvenirs of Armageddon.

“At the hospitals, either in the wards or the recreation room, the collector of outrĂ© neologisms would have a happy hunting ground. ‘Pass the oojah,’ says the one-armed man who is playing billiards. What is the oojah? The oojah is any object in heaven or earth; it is the thing which has no name or the name of which you have temporarily forgotten. The one-armed man, about to make his stroke, requires the little twisted wire bridge, mounted on a lead pedestal, that forms the cue rest which--poor chap!--he ought to have formed with his lost hand. So he demands the oojah, which is army for what-d’ye-call-it. And his opponent, whose face is so disguised that he has had to be given a molded mask to cover part of it, dubs his mask his oojah.

“Oojah may come from the East, with ‘cushy,’ and ‘blighty,’ and ‘bondook’ (a rifle), and ‘Sieda’ (good morning), and ‘burgoo’ (porridge), and a host of other jolly synonyms. But where did ‘click’ and ‘rumble’ originate?

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Coins New Verbs.

“To be rumbled is to be found out : you may be ‘rumbled swinging the lead’, which means that your shamming or shirking is detected. But if you apply for a ‘soft job,’ and obtain it, you have clicked. Again, you may ‘spruce.’ The verb ‘to spruce’ is obscure; but one may illustrate its employment by mentioning that if a war hospital convalescent who should be useful, washing dishes or cleaning knives for his ward sister vanishes with the design of evading these responsibilities, he is sprucing. In other words, he is ‘doing a mike.’ On his return, sister will doubtless ‘tick him off,’ or his comrades ‘give him the bird.’ Doubly will this be the case if he has been observed afar in colloquy with a ‘pusher’ (girl), and is suspected of ‘chancing his mit’ (spinning a far-fetched yarn) or telling ‘a sob-story.’

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Slang Is Catching.

“And as I go about my hospital duties in the midst of this babel of metaphor which has come not only from all over the British Isles, but from India and the colonies (to say nothing of ‘na-poo’ and the rest of the harvest from France) I wonder whether my native tongue will ever be the same again. For I have reeled beneath the assault of O. Henryisms in New York, and I remember with grim anticipation that America, too, has entered the war, and her troops are also to mingle not only their blood, but their bewildering idiom with ours. A formidable prospect, for there is no disease more catching than slang.”

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Source: The Washington Post. 22 Jul 1917. pg ES10.

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Lost for Words

[ Edited: 25 June 2007 08:36 PM by etymolog ]
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Posted: 25 June 2007 07:27 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]
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Please stop spamming.  All these links to your site are increasingly irritating, even though the subject matter is interesting.

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Posted: 25 June 2007 07:41 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]
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Sorry, didn’t realize I was spamming. Is this satisfactory now? Or should I just avoid posting my thoughts here if I’ve already posted them on my site? Thanks.

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Posted: 25 June 2007 07:57 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]
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Nothing wrong with linking to one’s own site or any other site if it’s pertinent to the topic at hand, right?

As for routinely giving one’s own URL in a signature, I don’t recall anybody making any remarks when others did it. But I haven’t read every post.

I suppose maybe Dave Wilton should make a policy statement if people are getting annoyed.

Or am I missing something again?

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Posted: 25 June 2007 08:01 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]
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I’m so used to seeing people link to their personal sites in signatures on message boards that I figured it wouldn’t be a big deal. Oh well, I guess this discussion has gotten side-tracked a bit :D

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Posted: 25 June 2007 09:48 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 6 ]
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D Wilson - 25 June 2007 07:57 PM

Nothing wrong with linking to one’s own site or any other site if it’s pertinent to the topic at hand, right?

exactly.  Heaven forfend that anyone here might make a reference to a book they have written or anything.

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Posted: 26 June 2007 02:24 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 7 ]
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Nasty.  Presumably you’re referring to my mention of my book (now sold out), for which (as I have said previously) I specificially asked Dave’s permission.  I just think that the amount of linkage we’ve already had to etymolog’s site already in eleven posts is a tad excessive.

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Posted: 26 June 2007 04:29 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 8 ]
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Etymolog’s signature in its first form was distracting, at least to a couple of us. I have no problem with it now that he’s reduced the size.

Very interesting post, etymolog.

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Posted: 26 June 2007 05:30 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 9 ]
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Interesting indeed—thanks for a most interesting article!

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Posted: 26 June 2007 05:31 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 10 ]
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ElizaD - 26 June 2007 02:24 AM

Nasty.

It was indeed and uncalled for.  I apologize.

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Posted: 26 June 2007 06:13 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 11 ]
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I don’t see anything wrong with etymolog’s posts. Including a discreet signature with URL is perfectly acceptable behavior. (I don’t recall etymolog’s original signature, but the current one is unobjectionable in my eyes.)

It probably wouldn’t be a good idea for etymolog, or any other blogger, to post here each and every time he makes a post to his blog (that’s what RSS feeds are for), but the occasional cross-post when one might expect the Wordorigins crowd to have a particular interest in the subject is fine. Using this board to generate discussion and criticism which can then later be incorporated into a blog post (use as a sounding board) is also a good use for this forum.

Also, I’ve commented before about how one should avoid including the full text of articles, but the article in this thread is a perfect example of when you should make an exception. It’s from 1917 and in the public domain, so there is no copyright issue, and because of its age, it’s not likely to be easily found in non-subscription sites. So including the entire article, as opposed to an abstract or excerpt and the URL, is appropriate in this case.

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Posted: 26 June 2007 06:25 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 12 ]
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languagehat - 26 June 2007 05:30 AM

Interesting indeed—thanks for a most interesting article!

No problem :D I’ve found a couple other interesting ones from the mid-late 1800s in The Times and elsewhere that I plan on textifying soon. These should really help you see the difference between the way Brits and Americans develop/use slang.

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Posted: 26 June 2007 06:34 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 13 ]
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It probably wouldn’t be a good idea for etymolog, or any other blogger, to post here each and every time he makes a post to his blog

Which is what seemed to me to have been happening, but I bow to the collective wisdom of the majority.  And apology accepted, oe.  And, as I said earlier, the opening post IS interesting.

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Posted: 26 June 2007 06:34 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 14 ]
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Dave Wilton - 26 June 2007 06:13 AM

Also, I’ve commented before about how one should avoid including the full text of articles, but the article in this thread is a perfect example of when you should make an exception. It’s from 1917 and in the public domain, so there is no copyright issue, and because of its age, it’s not likely to be easily found in non-subscription sites. So including the entire article, as opposed to an abstract or excerpt and the URL, is appropriate in this case.

Thanks for the clarification. I’m very aware of where I grab images/text from, and I almost always avoid using anything that’s not PD. An easy way to find such images is to google for: keyword site:.gov OR site:.mil. This won’t guarantee that an image is public domain (national labs like sandia.gov, llnl.gov, etc are separate entities run by companies like Lockheed Martin that do govt contracting, so they can copyright content) but it narrows things down substantially. Anyways, I’m rambling again…

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Posted: 26 June 2007 07:10 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 15 ]
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Very interesting article - I’d only ever heard “oojamaflip” as a synonym for “thingy” or “wossname”, never just “oojah”, but I see the shorter word gets massively more google hits. I’d never heard of “almond rocks” for socks, either, despite growing up in a (London) household where “whistle” for suit and “titfer” for hat were normal ... indeed, I’d never heard of “almond rocks” at all, but a quick google turns up a delicious-looking recipe

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