Now all roads lead to France and heavy is the tread
Of the living; but the dead returning lightly dance.
Edward Thomas, Roads

Monday, October 4, 2021

Still With Us: Eleven Words and Expressions Popularized During the Great War

This Balloon Is About to Go Up

1. Balloon's Gone Up

The beginning of just about any enterprise. Originally referring to an observation balloon sent aloft to direct gunners' artillery fire just prior to commencement.

2.  A-1

In top form. By 1916 the British War Office had created an ABC system of classification for the Department of Recruiting. Each category was then graded on a scale of 1 to 3. A-1 men were fit for general service overseas. 

3. Conk-Out

Slang for stopping, failing, passing out or dying. Originated in the American Air Service, "conk" being the last sound a reciprocating engine makes just before it ceases operating.

4. Chatting

Conversing in an informal manner. Lice were known as "chats" in WWI. Soldiers forced to spend many an hour removing them from the seams of their clothing passed the time in casual discussions with their mates. They said they were "chatting."

5. Crummy

Synonymous with "lousy". A reference to the eggs of the lice being like crumbs of bread.

6. Cushy

Slang for nice, or comfortable, from Urdu kushi for pleasure. One of many Anglo-Indian Army words popularized in WWI. 

7. D-Day (and H-Hour)

First used 12 September 1918 by the U.S. First Army for the opening of the St. Mihiel Offensive.

Funk Holes


8. In a Funk

Dejected mood; to shrink from. Funk holes were excavated storage openings on the walls of trenches where soldiers could retire when not on duty.

9. Gone West

To die; fail; decline. Go west towards the setting sun or Blighty.

10. Mock-up

A near full-sized, non-working model of a new design. Derived from practices in World War I's bustling aircraft industries.

11. Trench: Coat, Fever, Foot, Mouth, etc.

No explanation should be needed for our regular readers.

Bonus Video from Distant Words 


  1. I could not find a way to add "editorial suggestions" to the October Trip Wire. So, I will make them here.
    On the Georges Guynemer Memorial: "...he managed to glide into Immortality." (rather than "immorality").

    On the Unknown Soldier: (title) Part II, Interment, November 11, 1921. (rather than "internment").
    Vast difference in meaning and message in each case.

    1. Thanks for the corrections. Proof reading is the hardest part of publishing this stuff.

  2. Hello everyone, I'm enjoying the content here, and I'd like to add some more information about the expression "the balloon's gone up!"

    In Britain, at least, the expression always means that a particularly risky activity has foundered or come to grief.

    Example: "Why are they loading nukes onto our bombers?" demanded the station XO. "The ballon went up a hour ago, and North London is now a pile of melted goo" replied the agitated Ops chief.