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Soldiers’ Songs and Slang of the Great War

Soldiers’ Songs and Slang of the Great War Book Review

By David L. Veres

Date of Review October 2014 Title Soldiers’ Songs and Slang of the Great War
Author Martin Pegler Publisher Osprey Publishing
Published 2014 ISBN 9781472804150
Format 408 pages, softbound MSRP (USD) $12.95


Osprey brings a social dimension to World War I's centennial with its enormously entertaining Soldiers' Songs and Slang of the Great War.

You might go "bapoo" at its sheer number of fascinating facts and factoids.  And you might even scream, "Sweet Fanny Adams!"  But anyone with even a passing interest in the "War to End All Wars" will love this terrific tome.

"Military Slang, Terminology and Popular Phrases" consume the book's first half.  Amidst the conflict's mayhem, mud and mire, people, places and provisions netted nicknames.  Osprey even posits an oriental origin for the ubiquitous expression "OK".

Why were Germans called "Boche" or "Hun" – and when?  Why could a "Charley Chaplain" prove dangerous?  And what do "Tommy" and "Doughboy" have in common with "Dreckfresser" and "Fußlatsche"?

Weapons, too.  From Jack Johnson and Harry Tate to Emma Gee and Lebel Ma'm'selle.  Even potato digger and potato masher.  The implements of war snagged sobriquets of their own.  Just wait 'til you discover how "Richard the Third" relates to observation balloons!

To be "fair dinky", a couple "cooties" caught my eye.  Author Martin Pegler, for instance, rightly cites a Shakespearean source for "canon fodder".  But he erroneously ascribes a 17th-century root to "bloody" – its actual etymology deriving from the sacrilegious medieval oath, "God's blood".

He also posits more recent origins for the term "fag" ("cigarette") – which, disputably, derives from an earlier expression for tinder bundles.  Another "raspberry tart"?  Perhaps Guy Fawkes and Thomas Hardy might help.  Or "san fairy ann".

Now let the entertainment begin!  Contents continue with popular songs, chants and "monologues from the trenches".  Timeless tunes like "Pack Up Your Troubles" and "Over There" stand side-by-side with the war's period parodies and bawdy ballads.

I didn't know that "It's A Long Way To Tipperary" appeared two years before the war began.  And its lampoon, "That's The Wrong Way To Tickle Mary", reflects the conflict's multidimensional realities – to say the least.

And who knew that "Inkey Dinkey Parlez-Vous" featured as many as 26 verses – some of which, Pegler claims, "were so obscene that even today they would raise eyebrows if published"!

Archival illustrations, Punch cartoons, eight appendices and a selected bibliography season the story.

OK.  Enough "chin-wagging".  Pour a draught of "dido" – or "comsah".  Grab your "bees and honey".  Then buy, beg or "bone" this "bon" book.

Do I sound "dead nuts on" Osprey's entertaining effort?  No "cuffer": I heartily recommend it!

My sincere thanks to Osprey Publishing for this review sample!