Can we write a history of war through the words that are used ? If so, what might this reveal ?
In August 1914, Andrew Clark, rector of Great Leighs in Essex and a long-established volunteer on the (then on-going) first edition of the Oxford English Dictionary, decided to document the impact of war on the English language. The 70 notebooks (and associated files) that he produced over the next four years, headed ‘English Words in War-Time’, provide a detailed and largely unexamined record of language on the Home Front, and the reporting of war in a critical period of social and historical change.
The ‘English Words in War-Time’ project will track Clark’s emerging lexical history in ‘real time’ — if a hundred years later — in a series of blogs which will run across the centenary of WWI. As these explore, 1914-19 is is no sense an era in which English either ran out of words (as Henry James argued) or in which innovation or expressivity failed. Instead, English can be witness to a striking fertility and productivity, responding to the changes of material and ideological circumstance, to technological impetus and new constructions of gender identity and roles, as well as in terms of a changing language of memory and memorialisation.
The English Words in War-Time Project is an on-going research project supported by the John Fell Oxford University Press Research Fund