Category Archives: Language

Sassoon and slanginess

An article in the Guardian alerts us to an interesting new exhibition at the Imperial War Museum. It tells the story of a century of anti-war protest, and one of the exhibits is a manuscript copy of ‘The General’ by Siegfried Sassoon. Advertisements

‘A splitarse bus’

V.M. Yeates spots a German aeroplane: It was one of the new DFWs – a nice-looking, very splitarse bus. ‘Splitarsing’ is a frequent word in Winged Victory  It appears in Arnall’s  Portrait of an Airman, too. The context makes it clear that it means ‘making a fast manoeuvre’, and the Oxford English Dictionary gives us […]


I  like discovering words that are new to me. This is from V.M.Yeates, Winged Victory (1934): A flaming meteor fell out of a cloud close by them and plunged earthwards. It was an aeroplane going down in flames from some fight above the clouds. Where it fell the atmosphere was stained by a thanatognomonic black […]

English Words in Wartime

Readers of this blog may also be interested in ‘English Words in Wartime’, a blog that looks at ways in which the Great War changed the language. It looks especially at the words noted by that splendid diarist the Rev Andrew Clark, who set himself to describing the effects of war on everyday life, and […]

‘Pre-war’ again

It’s a long long time since I noted some interesting (to me) uses of the term ‘pre-war’. Here’s another, from the extremely entertaining 1927 novel  Crazy Pavements  by Beverley Nichols. Nobody had spoken during this brief transit, except Maurice who had said: ‘Does my face look terribly pre-war tonight?’ and had been answered by an […]

Fun with Ngrams

One of the pleasures of the British Poetry of the First World War conference (and the pleasures were many – I’ll be mentioning several over the next week or so) was Jay Winter’s talk on ‘Glory’. He traced the decline of the word in English by use of  Google Ngrams. This is a neat bit […]

New Huns

In Arnold Bennett’s 1927 novel, The Strange Vanguard (or in America, just The Vanguard), a forthright multi-millionaire talks about his immense wealth: People call me one of the new Huns, because I’m so darned rich. Well, I can’t help it. What could I do? I couldn’t refuse my royalties or the interest on my investments. […]

Non-military ‘shell-shock’

Reading Malcolm Sage, Detective by Herbert Jenkins (1921) I come across this description of a young man who has just heard that his uncle has been murdered: Malcolm Sage and Sir James between them succeeded in placing young Dane more at his ease. The haunted, shell-shock look left his eyes, and the twitching disappeared from […]


Thanks to Erica at Reading 1900-1950 for spreading the word about Ngrams. The Google Ngram Viewer is ‘a phrase-usage graphing tool.’ Based on scans of over 5.2 million books, it charts the yearly appearance of  any n-grams (letter combinations) that you care to enter. I’ve plotted incidences of the phrase ‘Great War’ against appearances of […]

‘All Quiet’ – the cocktail

In P.G. Wodehouse’s Mulliner Nights, Oofy Prosser is in a bad state the morning after enjoying Bronx cocktails, Martinis, Side-cars, Lizard’s Breaths, All Quiet on the Western Fronts […] champagne, whisky, brandy, chartreuse, benedictine and curaçao. Was there really an All Quiet cocktail? Googling doesn’t find me a recipe. Was this a joke, based on […]