Cooties, doughboys, and foxholes
Posted: 22 June 2014 03:26 AM   [ Ignore ]
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Jonathan Lighter on WWI slang.

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Posted: 23 June 2014 07:27 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]
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The adjustment of a rifle’s battle-sight was “zeroing in,”

Pardon me if I hae me doots about this one.  It doesn’t sound convincing to me. Soldiers’ jargon is usually pretty much to the point. The sights (battle-sights???) of standard issue British and German rifles in WW1 didn’t have anything to do with zero. Perhaps those of some other weapon did (a sniper’s telescopic sight, maybe?).  Does anyone have confirmatory evidence of Mr. Lighter’s statement?  Any antique weapons experts out there?

My own all-time favourite bit of soldier slang is “brass hat” for a senior staff officer. It perfectly expresses a fighting man’s wry distaste for a non-combatant soldier directing the war from far behind the lines.  Anyone know where that gem originated? (Possibly long before WW1 --- M-W on-line says “first known use in 1893”, without giving details)

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Posted: 23 June 2014 07:36 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]
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The OED shows references to “zeroing” a rifle (without the “in") from 1913.  The “zero” seems logical enough in terms of adjusting the sight or scope so that the difference between the point aimed for and where the bullet actually goes is zero.
Citations:
1913 A. G. Fulton Notes on Rifle Shooting 30 (advt.) A Zero Target, by means of which any novice may correctly zero his own rifle.
1918 H. W. McBride Emma Gees ix. 119 ‘Zeroing’ a rifle is the process of testing it out on a range of known distances and setting the sights to suit one’s individual peculiarities of aiming.

First OED citation for “brass hat” as an officer is this:
1887 Belfast News-let. 16 Mar. 7/4 Three officers..are to be tried by general court-martial for practical joking to a most unwarrantable extent with one of the brass hats of Dublin—we mean a staff officer.

but there’s also an earlier “brass-hatted”:
1858 Freeman’s Jrnl. (Dublin) 10 Nov. 3/7 The blue-coated, pewter-buttoned, brass-hatted army is upon them in a moment.

[ Edited: 23 June 2014 07:39 AM by Dr. Techie ]
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