The War That Gave Us 'Cooties'

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Salvation Army making Donuts - postcard depicting Salvation Army making donuts under bombardment of German guns while in front line in France during WWI, circa 1914-1918. Salvation Army making Donuts - postcard depicting Salvation Army making donuts under bombardment of German guns while in front line in France during WWI, circa 1914-1918. (Copyright: Susan Law Cain)

World War I began 100 years ago, and our word maven, Patricia T. O’Conner, looks at the words that came out of that war—like blimp, doughboy, cooties. She’ll also answer questions about language and grammar. An updated and expanded third edition of O’Conner’s book, Woe is I: The Grammarphobe's Guide to Better English in Plain English, is available in paperback, as is  Origins of the Specious, written with Stewart Kellerman.

If you have a question about language and grammar, leave a comment or call us at 212-433-9692!

O'Conner and Leonard discussed a number of words and phrases that originated—or became popular—during WWI, including:

taxiing (as in a plane on a runway)
trench coat
zero hour
cushy (to mean comfortable or easy)
shell shock
hush hush
pushing up daisies
in a funk


Patricia T. O'Conner

Comments [10]

Fred from Bloomfield, NJ

Caller referred to a source for the phrase, thousand yard stare, as the "Enead" by Homer, a sequel to the "Iliad". Did mean the "Aenead" by the Roman epic poet, Virgil?

Jul. 16 2014 01:59 PM

London was bombed - by zeppelin -- during the Great War.

Jul. 16 2014 01:52 PM
Michelle from LIC

When did "homefront" become "homeland," as in "homeland security"--as a military/national security term?

Jul. 16 2014 01:51 PM
Lothar Brieger from Manhattan

"Tank" was not chosen at random. The vehicles were indeed developed in secrecy and they told the locals near the factory that they were deisgning mobile water tank trucks. Hence 'tanks'. Patrick Wright wrote extensively about this in his history of the tanks, "Tank".

Jul. 16 2014 01:50 PM
Paula from West Village

Apropos of Life of Reilly....I still use the phrase Fibber McGee for junk drawers....my mother always used it and although I know the origin of it (radio show), I didn't grow up with that show, but definitely with the phrase and I still find it most descriptive.

Jul. 16 2014 01:49 PM
Bob from Westchester

Re the guest's discussion of the term "D-Day" -- my sister brought home from Normandy a French language map of the 1944 invasion beaches, which is entitled "J -Jour".

Jul. 16 2014 01:43 PM

Is Patricia saying WWII when she means WWI?
Eg.: Dogfight? Wasn't that WWI?

dogfight (n.) Look up dogfight at Dictionary.com
"aerial combat," World War I air forces slang, from earlier meaning "riotous brawl" (1880s); from dog (n.) + fight (n.). The literal sense of "a fight among or between dogs" is from 1650s.

Jul. 16 2014 01:40 PM
Bob from Westchester

@ RUCB_Alum: To your point, many historians point to the Seven Years War, which grew out of what we call the French and Indian War, as the first world war, as it was the first time warring parties fought battles in several continents (i.e., Europe, Africa, Asia, South America and North America).

Jul. 16 2014 01:38 PM
Mark Reilly from Manhattan

Sort of off topic, but "Zero Hour" is the name of the movie that was the basis for the movie "Airplane." http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dO90hdkeKrs

Jul. 16 2014 01:35 PM

Why is The Great War named 'World War I'...Couldn't the Napoleonic Wars be considered world wars?

Jul. 16 2014 01:30 PM

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