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 90 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 initially tracked Clark’s emerging lexical history in ‘real time’ — if a hundred years later — in a series of blogs which will ran across the centenary of WWI. As these explored, 1914-19 was in 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 was 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 book of the project Writing a War of Words. Andrew Clark and the Search for Meaning in WWI was published in October 2021 by Oxford University Press:
It featured on ‘Word of Mouth’ with Michael Rosen in January 2022: https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/m00139cm
The English Words in War-Time Project was supported by the John Fell Oxford University Press Research Fund and by the Leverhulme Trust.