We are people of peace who use words of war. We can’t help it. They have entered the vernacular so completely that we don’t even realize we are doing it. Consider the following ten and listen for them as you go through your day.
American Civil War battles sometimes resulted in the gathering of hundreds or even thousands of prisoners. It was seldom possible to quickly transfer them to camps or arrange prisoner swaps so they had to walk along with victorious army. At night or during rest stops, guards would draw a line in the dirt around prisoners and warn them that if they stepped over that line they would be shot. It was the deadline.
Soldiers in First World War trenches found, among other hardships, that their hair and uniforms were infested with lice. They would sit across from each other and use fingernails or cigarettes to remove the lice and their eggs – chats – from their mate’s hair and clothing. While doing the deed they would talk and soon, soldiers referred to anytime they made small talk as chatting.
- Heard It Through the Grapevine
Samuel Morse invented the telegraph. It was a code that could click messages through wires at a speed that was a 19th century marvel. At the outbreak of the American Civil War in 1861, both sides strung wires from city to city and to the front lines. The wires reminded folks of hanging grapevines and so when asked where one had heard a particular bit of news it became common to respond, “I heard it through the grapevine.”
In the late 19th century, British soldiers seeking to amuse themselves with proof of marksmanship took birds as their targets. The most difficult to hit was the small and quick moving Snipe. Those able to accomplish the feat became known as snipers. The name stuck when in the First World War Germans began using telescope-sighted rifles to shoot individuals in enemy trenches. Soon, all armies used, and called them variants of, snipers.
In the first year of the Cold War, in 1946, the American military needed a remote spot to test atomic bombs. A group of Pacific Islands was deemed perfect and so 167 native people were moved from their homes. The women were wearing skimpy clothing that exposed their midriffs as they were removed from Bikini Island. The bikini bathing suite went on sale shortly afterwards.
- Lock, Stock, and Barrel
A 19th century Civil War musket had three parts: a lock, a stock, and a metal barrel. Each part was useless without the other one but deadly when working well together. Thus, when a person put everything into an action he was said to be doing it “lock, stock and barrel.”
There is evidence that all ancient cultures made and enjoyed beer. However, it was not until Roman soldiers began moving north and drinking a home-made brew in what would later become Germany that the name was invented. They called the hearty ales and lagers by the Latin word for drink – biber. When Romans conquered the southern part of England they found English folks drinking the same grog and they Anglicized it to beer.
During the Crimean War, an English military leader named James Thomas Burdenell carefully drilled his men so that they were unbeatable in battle. Their prowess led to their being called the Light Brigade. In their famous charge, he courageously led them from the front. That day, like many in which the morning dawned chilly, he wore a gift from his wife over his uniform, a knitted, buttoned sweater. Burdenell, his men, and his sweater became famous. He was the 7th Earl of Cardigan.
Medieval knights trained in contests held on a large field which, in Latin, was called a campus. The contest winners were deemed the campion. For reasons unknown, English spellers simply added a letter to make it champion.
The expression came from a First World War way of explaining operations without revealing the time or day of an impending attack. The practice remained common in the Second World War. The first field order mentioning the Second World War amphibious landing at Normandy, consequently, stated that the allies would attack at “H-Hour on D-Day.” The D, rather redundantly, stands for Day. So D-Day, used now for many of our deadlines, recall that is another war word, really means Day-Day.
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