Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Hell's Bells, Slang is Fun!

One of the challenges of writing historical fiction is not only understanding the mindset of people from a different era, but also having them speak the lingo of their time. Many slang words and colloquialisms survive decades, but others are fleeting, and colourfully help to define the age.

Something good is surely more fun when it’s “crackerjack”. If you “talked wet” in 1914, someone might have responded with “Applesauce!” or “Flapdoodle!”, as my characters do to what they consider nonsense.

A fly boy and his bus
In WW1 military slang, a “fly boy” often got the “wind up” when he flew missions over the front lines in his “bus”, because the “Huns’” “archie” would be out to get him. Pilots had to contend with these “ack-ack” guns from the ground as well as machine-gun fire from enemy aircraft, including the Red Baron’s “flying circus”. Being a bit “windy” or scared might actually have helped a pilot make better choices to survive.

Traumatized by the horrors of trench warfare, many men hoped for a “Blighty” that would get them shipped back to England without being too badly wounded. But those who “copped a packet” often ended up “going west”, sometimes into an unmarked grave. The men in the trenches feared the usual morning and evening “hate” when they were bombarded by “blind or flying pigs”, “moaning minnies”, “whizz-bangs”, or other artillery. For soldiers, “chatting” meant de-lousing, while “swinging the lead” could land them in serious trouble with “brass hats” for shirking their duty.

“Tommies” and American “Doughboys” appreciated a good bottle of French “plonk”, but too much could result in becoming “squiffy”, “pie-eyed”, or “spifflicated”.

Words are such fun, aren’t they? I use several sources in my research, but the Oxford Dictionary of Slang is “the cat’s pajamas”!

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