Photo via Wikimedia

Nobody likes conflict. Least of all when it involves entire nations going head-to-head for years. But, there are often unexpected developments in our technology, moral attitudes and even in our language.

The major conflicts over this past century reveal that new terms and phraseology became entrenched across the battlefront and, in some cases, resurfaced at our home-front.

Word Wars

Two of the mightiest global conflicts of the 20th century, WWI and WWII, also brought with them a legion of neologisms. According to research, the First World War enhanced standard English as a direct result of the soldiers’ experiences. ‘Lousy’ and ‘crummy’, now used to express misery, literally meant that you were infested with lice, whilst ‘cushy’ referred to a light wound.

Language is also a powerful tool to alleviate friction and increase morale. This was particularly useful during the World Wars, as it threw together disparate classes and nationalities into situations of extreme novelty; naturally, a barrage of lexical innovations emerged. However, a writer for The Times in 1915, noted that cockney slang was responsible for most of the war jargon.


Verbal wit and satire is prolific among the military and aviation forces: it lightens things up, and it helps soften the brutal realities that accompany war. For example, a fleeing soldier would be described as ‘getting the wind up’ and,  in more unfortunate cases, the terms ‘to push up daisies’, ‘going west’ or ‘pipped’ were used to express death or being severely wounded. And although the English and Germans did not see eye to eye during WWI, both sides agreed that a retreat actually meant everything was going plängenass or “according to plan”.

Tune into to any news or radio source over the past 10 years, and you will find similar wordplay has developed to lessen the impact of conflicts overseas: ‘collateral damage’, ‘boots on the ground’ and ‘overseas contingency operations’, are but just a few. Still an overuse of euphemisms can have dehumanising effects and blanket some of the atrocities of war; even the Nazis referred to their activities as feierabendgestaltung (leisure time structuring!)

Photo via Wikimedia


Today, we are frequently bombarded with acronyms relating to conflict. WMD, RPGs, and, more recently, Obama, requested AUMF (Authorisation for the Use of Military Force) from congress to combat ISIS. But as a soldier, you would have to orient your way through minefields of acronyms. Clearly, there were functional benefits of acronyms: the diction is simple, it can camouflage orders, and it’s faster than repeating ‘Wartime Host Nation Support Information Management System’ (WHNSIMS) every time.

In WWII, they were used for satirical entertainment to inform comrades that the status is ‘SNAFU’ (Situation Normal, All Fucked Up), or totally FUBAR (Fucked Up Beyond All Recognition). Curse words are frequent in military conflicts but, in an odd way, they create a sense of camaraderie by determining norms and expectations regarding the use of language. Crude and satirical acronyms were deeply entrenched in soldiers’ vocabulary – even when writing to their loved ones e.g. ‘N.O.R.W.I.C.H’ = ‘(k) Nickers Off Ready When I Come Home’).

Adopted Words

However, such artful wordplay did not only spawn from English; many words were adopted from German, French and Asian nations. Together, they created a labyrinth of slang that was incomprehensible to anyone outside the military circles.

Neologisms such as ‘muckin’ (butter) and ‘chukkaro’ (youngster) have been traced back to Hindi origins. You can still spot some of them in our lexicon today: ‘souvenir’ (formally known as “keepsake”) from French and ‘kamikaze’ (a suicidal attack from a pilot) from Japanese.

Final Thoughts

Innovative linguistics, are always fascinating to observe, especially within our modern age of communication. They facilitate communication in the most novel and extreme of circumstances to help us better describe those events.

It’s no secret that we have witnessed a number of conflicts throughout 2016; in fact the 2016 Global Peace Index has identified that only 10 countries are free from conflict. Consequently, those with ‘their boots on the ground’ will become armed with neologisms to help them in high pressure situations; assuredly bringing many from the battlefront to the home-front.

Do you know any new words or phrases that have recently  entered our vocabulary from armed conflicts? Let us know in the comments below!