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Tommy
Posted: 02 January 2016 12:04 PM   [ Ignore ]
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Is this exclusively a Rightpondian expression when referring to a British soldier? I’ve only come across it in British novels.

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Posted: 02 January 2016 02:20 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]
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I don’t know its status in Canada, but I would say an American would only use it if quoting, or consciously imitating, British usage.

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Posted: 02 January 2016 06:03 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]
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I would say it had some currency in Leftpondia during the World Wars, but it seems to dropped out of the vocabulary since, the exception being in writing about the wars.

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Posted: 03 January 2016 04:27 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]
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It’s very current in France. French people writing about either World War use ‘le Tommy’ and ‘les Tommies’ as a matter of course.

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Posted: 03 January 2016 05:30 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]
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This is a difficult term to search because use of the personal name overwhelms the soldier sense. But looking up British Tommy in BYU’s Corpus of Historical American English turns up only 14 hits:
1910s: 3
1920s: 2
1930s: 2
1940s: 4
1950s: 2
2000s: 1

There are 2 hits for the plural Tommies, both from the 1910s.

The one from 2004 is from Military History magazine. Earlier uses were in mainstream publications like the Atlantic, Time, National Geographic, and the CS Monitor. So my impression that it had currency in Leftpondia during the wars seems to be valid.

As a point of comparison, the plain Tommy (including the personal name and such terms as Tommy gun) appears 7,197 times in the COHA corpus.) Some of these are undoubtedly in the soldier sense as well, and there are undoubtedly uses of the soldier sense in other decades, but British Tommy is probably a pretty good proxy for the term’s relative frequency over time.

[ Edited: 03 January 2016 05:34 AM by Dave Wilton ]
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Posted: 03 January 2016 07:08 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]
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I would guess it’s known in the US almost exclusively to aficionados of WWI.

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Posted: 03 January 2016 08:20 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 6 ]
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My experience is a bit different. It’s certainly not a common term in the US, but I know it from reading and watching old movies and I’m about as far away from a war aficionado as it gets. I’d be surprised to find out that my contemporaries who also read and watch old movies didn’t know the word as I find it completely unremarkable.

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Posted: 03 January 2016 12:20 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 7 ]
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languagehat - 03 January 2016 07:08 AM

I would guess it’s known in the US almost exclusively to aficionados of WWI.

...and Kipling.

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Posted: 03 January 2016 12:55 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 8 ]
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Further research found me:

http://www.historic-uk.com/HistoryUK/HistoryofBritain/The-British-Tommy-Tommy-Atkins/

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Posted: 04 January 2016 07:21 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 9 ]
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Further research found me:

http://www.historic-uk.com/HistoryUK/HistoryofBritain/The-British-Tommy-Tommy-Atkins/

Grrr. That’s the equivalent of starting an article on ‘Ring a ring a roses’ with a couple of paragraphs explaining how it’s all about the Great Plague, or about ‘freeze the balls of a brass monkey’ with an elaborate description of how naval cannonballs were stacked in pyramids on a brass plate, then adding a tiny footnote mentioning that there is another possible explanation…

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Posted: 04 January 2016 07:58 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 10 ]
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Tour guides are notorious vectors of etymological misinformation. I didn’t know they had a website.

Let’s start with the fact that the Duke of Wellington was not 74 years old in 1815. That was the year of Waterloo, and the Duke was 46. If they can’t get basic biographical info correct, nothing on the site can be trusted. And there is no documentation of a Tommy Atkins who served at Boxtel, although this absence of evidence does not automatically render the story false. All we have are recollections decades after the fact.

Thomas Atkins has been documented as a generic name for a soldier from 1815 when it appeared on the specimen page of an army pay book. It was shortened to Tommy Atkins by 1850, and Tommy appears by 1881. It’s highly unlikely that the war office would have bothered Wellington, who was busy with other things in 1815, with such trivialities as how an example should read in a pay book. The biographical details in the pay book do not match the story of the 1794 Tommy Atkins—he isn’t as tall and survived the battle—indicating that it is simply a fictional example given to show how to fill out the forms correctly. The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography says the Tommy Atkins who died at Boxtel is the “most plausible” historical inspiration for the term, but acknowledges other possibilities.

After discussing various soldiers with that name, the OED says, “however, the motivating factor may be that Thomas Atkins was considered a relatively common and unremarkable British working class name (compare similar use of e.g. John Smith).” This seems to be the most likely origin; it’s a fictional name that was floating about when it was written down in 1815. The appearance in the pay book would be an excellent vector, as thousands would see the usage. The name may have been inspired by a historical soldier, but if Wellington did recall the soldier’s death, it was likely decades later and misremembered, conflating an actual soldier and a fictional name.

The supposed 1743 letter has never been found. The story first appeared in a newspaper in 1938. There is another origin story rooted in the eighteenth century, a Tommy Atkins who was allegedly captured by American forces at Yorktown in 1781. Again, evidence is lacking for this one.

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Posted: 04 January 2016 09:06 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 11 ]
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I’d be surprised to find out that my contemporaries who also read and watch old movies didn’t know the word as I find it completely unremarkable.

Well, “contemporaries who also read and watch old movies” is not a large subset of the population (assuming “old movies” means movies in which you might find references to Tommies, as opposed to The Wizard of Oz and It’s a Wonderful Life), and of course any word is unremarkable to those who are familiar with it.  On the other hand, some people think samovar is a weird Russian word that should not be counted as part of the English lexicon.

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Posted: 04 January 2016 06:59 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 12 ]
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Another actor in Tom and Jerry Episode 1 was Johnny Turk.

I’ve never read any explanation for why the Turks were called Johnny back then: possibly just a random common name.

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Posted: 05 January 2016 07:48 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 13 ]
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Under Johnny | Johnnie, n., “Applied humorously or contemptuously to various classes of men” (OED):

c.  (a) = John n. 2b; (b) a soldier of the Indian Army (before 1947); (c) a Gurkha; (d) = Johnny Turk n. at Compounds 1; (e) an Arab; (f) an onion-seller from Brittany.
1857 T. B. Gunn Physiol. N.Y. Boarding-houses 275 He’s seed the Johnnies goin’ into that there doorway next block.
1858 Leisure Hour 27 May 326/1 Sepoys..known as Johnnys.
1888 R. Kipling Wee Willie Winkie 103 A Highlander..turning to a Gurkha, said, ‘Hya, Johnny!’
1897 I. Scott How I stole over 10,000 Sheep 46 His name was Lim Hung Ching…this Johnny knowing he would have no show in such a scotch town if he sent in his tender with his own name,..signed it Angus McPherson.
1916 Anzac Bk. 50 What should we at Anzac have done without ‘Johnnie’ and his sturdy little mules?
1925 E. Fraser & J. Gibbons Soldier & Sailor Words 132 Johnny, a Turk. (As a Service nickname, dating from the Crimean War.)
1948 E. Partridge Dict. Forces’ Slang 103 Johnny, soldiers’ word for Arab. It rebounded, as Arabs also used the name for British soldiers.
1960 Guardian 8 Mar. 8/7 Any time now we shall have the Johnnies [from Brittany] coming around in small vans.
1967 J. Caird Murder Scholastic xi. 130 She heard the knock at the door… It could be a tradesman..or Onion Johnny, or a tramp.
1969 S. Mays Fall out Officers xxii. 173 ‘Now we are all the fighting brothers,’ said Johnny with delight.

Under “Compounds” (among many others, e.g. Johnny Raw “an inexperienced youngster: a raw recruit; a new hand; a novice” and Johnny penguin [1879 H. N. Moseley Notes by Naturalist on ‘Challenger’ viii. 189 The whole beach of Christmas Harbour [in Kerguelen’s Land] was covered with droves of the Johnny Penguin]):

Johnny Crapaud n.  [i.e. toad] (also Johnny Crapeau):  (a) nickname for a Frenchman or French Canadian; †(b) the French nation (obs.) .

Johnny Turk n. a Turkish soldier; any Turk.
1919 Mr. Punch’s Hist. Great War 24 Now it is the turn of ‘Johnny Turk’, who has had his knock on the Suez Canal.
1972 E. Ambler Levanter ii. 22 ‘Johnny Turk is a gentleman,’ he used to say.

So it’s a multivalent word indeed!

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Posted: 05 January 2016 09:01 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 14 ]
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I grew up in the fifties and sixties. In the early days, we had a just a few channels and when they showed movies with ‘Tommies” you watched, not because you were a war buff, or loved old movies, but because that was all you had. Same deal with books, they were the best entertainment going, with the exception that even for those times, I was what you might call “bookish” and read a lot. I basically read every book in the house and then moved on to the library, because reading gave me more enjoyment than I could get from playing in the dirt. Again, just me, but also a lot of others, I think. Probably most of the people on this board, in fact.

It’s hard to imagine that lots kids of that era didn’t also see those same old movies and pick up “Tommie” just as I did.

I’m aware that my experience includes the fact that the people I hang out with are mostly also from that era and we’re mostly well read and well traveled and know a lot of stuff that “most” people don’t, because statistically most people are young. I’m aware that my age alone puts me in the 8% of the world’s population group, so I have no illusions about where I fit in with most people. Like I said, my experience is different.

As for people afraid of samovar… one can only feel pity.

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Posted: 05 January 2016 02:25 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 15 ]
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Johnny/John is used to mean so many things, that at times it even loses its capital initial, as in: stage door johnny, john (a working girl’s client), john (a privy)....I’m sure there are more such cases.

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