Batman
Posted: 24 November 2014 01:41 AM   [ Ignore ]
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I encountered this word in a book I was reading. I was not familiar with its definition as it was used in the book.

OED

batman, n.2
View as: Outline |Full entryQuotations:
Pronunciation:  /ˈbætmən/ /ˈbɑːmən/
Etymology:  < bat n.3 + man n.1

a. A man in charge of a bat-horse and its load; a military servant of a cavalry officer. Now generally, an officer’s servant.

]bât-horse n. (French cheval de bât) a sumpter-beast, a horse which carries the baggage of military officers, during a campaign; as bât-mule n. See also batman
n.1

Is this a very common usage today? The book I was reading was published in 1939

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Posted: 24 November 2014 02:41 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]
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It’s not as common as it was, simply because in the post-war, much more egalitarian British Army, the assigning of a soldier-servant (the official term) to all officers has been discontinued. But as long as officers did have soldier-servants, they were normally referred to as ‘batmen’ and the word was universally understood in Rightpondia. In WWII memoirs, for example, the term is used as a matter of course without anyone feeling the need to explain it. I dare say that today many younger people have never heard it simply because they haven’t heard much about the British Army of WWII and earlier; but anybody who has, knows the word.

BTW, the wiki entry for ‘Batman (military)’ says that in the Pakistani Army both the function and the word, inherited from the army of the British Raj, still exist.

Edited to add:

It’s not really relevant, but the word bastard appears to have the same root.

[ Edited: 24 November 2014 02:50 AM by Syntinen Laulu ]
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Posted: 24 November 2014 07:38 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]
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I’ve been encountering the word lately because my wife and I are reading Ford Madox Ford’s Parade’s End, a series of novels about WWI (excellent but, unsurprisingly, depressing).  I kept meaning to look it up but hadn’t so far, and I find the etymology astonishing—thanks for sharing it!

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Posted: 24 November 2014 09:59 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]
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Syntinen Laulu - 24 November 2014 02:41 AM

It’s not as common as it was, simply because in the post-war, much more egalitarian British Army, the assigning of a soldier-servant (the official term) to all officers has been discontinued. But as long as officers did have soldier-servants, they were normally referred to as ‘batmen’ and the word was universally understood in Rightpondia. In WWII memoirs, for example, the term is used as a matter of course without anyone feeling the need to explain it. I dare say that today many younger people have never heard it simply because they haven’t heard much about the British Army of WWII and earlier; but anybody who has, knows the word.

BTW, the wiki entry for ‘Batman (military)’ says that in the Pakistani Army both the function and the word, inherited from the army of the British Raj, still exist.


Edited to add:

It’s not really relevant, but the word bastard appears to have the same root.

Thank you for that information.

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Posted: 24 November 2014 03:11 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]
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"I was Kaiser Bill’s Batman”, an odd hit record in 1967 for Whistling Jack Smith.
Very confusing as I was into DC comics and the TV show starring Adam west had not long since landed in he UK…
Anyway, although odd it was still current until relatively recently

BTW, Bât (or bast) in French derives from the latin bastere, to carry.

“Bastard” might not have the same root; it seems there a competing ideas that it derives from a north Germanic word “banstu” or “böst” meaning “conjugal union”.

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Posted: 24 November 2014 04:50 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]
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Ha. I had always assumed bastard was somehow connected to bas, meaning low.

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