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Vocabulary created during World War I

Armistice Day is commemorated every year on 11 November to mark the armistice signed between the Allies of World War I and Germany at Compiègne, France. The hostilities ceased on the Western Front of World War I, on 'the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month' of 1918. The date is a national holiday in France and was declared a national holiday in many Allied nations. In the UK, both Armistice Day and Remembrance Sunday are commemorated formally but are not public holidays. In recent years Armistice Day has become increasingly recognised in the UK, and many people now attend the 11:00 a.m. ceremony at the Cenotaph in London – an event organised by Royal British Legion, a British charity dedicated to perpetuating the memory of those who served in the First World War and veterans of all subsequent wars involving British and Commonwealth troops. Did you know that World War I is responsible for introducing a number of new words into the English language?

  • 'They shall not grow old, as we are left to get old, Age shall not weary them nor the years condemn, At the going down of the sun and in the morning, We shall remember them'


BLOTTO - (verb to be blotto) Is a word that today, in English means to be drunk. The term originated during World War I - Blotto was a French bicycle manufacturer. The bikes were notoriously unstable. Hence the comparison to someone who was very drunk. Source British Legion.

The NHS is being put under intolerable strain by 'selfish' partygoers getting 'blotto', the head of the health service has warned.

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Simon Stevens

NHS Chief Executive Dec 2016


PLONK (noun) - The British soldier has traditionally failed since time immemorial to master the pronunciation of even the simplest foreign words, and it is merely a corruption of the French ‘vin blanc’.

German car manufacturers would still want to sell us BMWs and French champagne houses would still want to flog their plonk - perish the thought they'd flounce off!

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Laura Kuenssberg

BBC Political Editor talking in 2016 about the UK Post Brexit.


BUMF - (noun) Is a word that today, in English, describes printed paper that is produced in huge quantities for no discernable reason, and apparently has no information value. It is derived from the army term ‘bum-fodder’ – paper that has only one possible practical use, toilet paper. It is originally from pre-war schoolboy slang then appropriated by the soldiers to refer to excessive paperwork. It generally referred to the endless streams of army orders that were issued from headquarters. One almost legendary incident was that in the middle of one particularly savage attack on the Somme, a British orderly officer received a series of communiqués from HQ demanding to know how much tinned jam was held in stores and how many pairs of socks were required.

'pages and pages of self-congratulatory bumf with little meaning or use to assembly members or the people of Wales'.

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Kirsty Williams

Liberal Democrat Leader, describing the Welsh Government's annual progress report in 2013


FLAP - (verb) Is a word that today, in English' describes being worried about something. 'To be in a flap,' meaning 'to be worried,' dates from 1916. It was originally a naval expression derived from the restless flapping of birds but quickly spread into everyday English during the First World War. The adjective unflappable, meaning unflustered or imperturbable, appeared in the 1950s. Source: Mental Floss

The battle for raw materials causing a flap from DRC to Silicon Valley

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Jon Yeomans

Asst Business Editor of The Telegraph Newspaper wrote this headline about a mining dispute in the Democratic Republic of Congo in June 2018

Sniper and Sniping

SNIPER - a noun that today, in English' describes a specialist marksman equipped with a telescopic-sighted rifle. TO SNIPE - a verb can now also refer to sharp or snide remarks made about another person. Prior to the First World War, armies had employed specialist marksmen known as ‘sharpshooters’. When war broke out in 1914, the Germans used thousands of highly trained riflemen, usually equipped with telescopic-sighted rifles. British officers referred to them as ‘snipers’, which was a reference to the army in India in the late 18th century when officers would go bird hunting in the hills – the tiny Snipe being one of the hardest of targets to hit. From 1914 the word was widely adopted by the British press, and it has since become universal. Sniping can now also refer to sharp or snide remarks made about another person.

'Heseltine has made clear it is his aim to prevent Brexit at all costs, including the sabotage of his own party and nation, the Conservative Party must therefore withdraw the whip and end the inevitable continuation of his sniping from inside the tent.'

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Ben Harris-Quinney

Chairman of the Bow Group, a Conservative Think Tank talking about Lord Heseltine in December 2017