Writing war and peace in 1914-15: pacifists, peace-plotters, and peacettes

In terms of language, peace and war exist in a state of mutual definition. Peace, as Samuel Johnson states in his Dictionary of 1755, is ‘Respite from war’. To be peaceable is likewise to be ‘Free from war; free from tumult’. Defining war, it is ‘the exercise of violence’, together with ‘force’ and ‘resistance’ which instead assume prominence in the entry Johnson writes. Peace, by definition, is regained only once war comes to an end.

In reality, of course, things may not be quite so clear cut. Attitudes to war-like activity, as well as to peace activism in 1914-15 can, as the Words in War-time archive confirm, reveal a number of interesting shades of meaning. Militarism and the act of participating in military engagements were, for example, carefully kept apart. Used as a further means of distinguishing enemies from allies, militarism – and the pursuit of war which this implies — was confined to descriptions of the enemy. It was unambiguously derogatory. Continue reading

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Branded words: On not being German

Advertising, and the constructed nature of brand-names, was a topic to which Clark frequently returned in documenting ‘Words in War-Time’.  Even before war broke out, Clark had started to collect relevant examples, arguing that – for the linguistic and historian alike – these could be seen as a rich (and often neglected) resource of information about the embedding of language in culture and society. If the Oxford English Dictionary maintained a steadfast opposition to evidence of this kind (disallowing proper names as part of the legitimate territory of lexicography and the history of words), Clark again deliberately moved in a different direction. The notebooks gave him useful autonomy to explore language and meaning, and its responsiveness to on-going history, as he wished.

As previous posts have explored, the specific circumstances of war often rendered language a highly effective means by which patriotism or other issues of national allegiance could be claimed – or rejected. Consideration of form and, in particular, of word-forms which – rightly or wrongly – connoted German identity, could attract particular attention in this respect. The popular press, for example, repeatedly appropriated German patterns of spelling, placing German kultur against English culture in ways which intentionally rendered the former a by-word for savagery and barbarity. If kultur and culture derive from the same root, being, in reality, shared and cognate forms,** they could nevertheless be rendered antonyms in popular discourse — see e.g. the heading ‘More “Kultur”’, which in the Daily Express on 21 September 1914, accompanying an article (and an all too telling image) about the devastation of Rheims Cathedral.

The currency of other lexemes such as Teutonised – or non-Teutonic – both of which Clark records in his notebooks from September 1914 – easily reveals the identity politics at stake. Being Teutonised (a form still unrecorded in the OED) was, as another article in the Daily Express confirmed, seen as highly negative – suggesteing unwarranted alignment with the enemy in ways which are firmly delegitimised. Being, or being seen as, germanophile (here in another form which gained newly negative connotations — Clark records its use from September 11 1914) was, in similar ways, by no means seen as desirable.

An extensive anti-German lexis could, in such ways, became another aspect of the war of words. Notions of being pro-German, or Hun-like (both of which Clark also documents from September 1914) would all be used to mobilise highly negative feeling. The Hunite – recorded in the Daily Express on 19th September (and absent, then and now, from the Oxford English Dictionary) –  emerges, for example, as a highly effective way of labelling, and stigmatizing, the presence of unwarranted German sympathies, not least as indicated by a less than whole-hearted supported for the war effort or, still worse, by qualms about war per se. ‘Chiding the Hunites’, the heading of the article states. As the OED records, the suffix –ite was far from neutral: forms in which –ite appear, it states, ‘have a tendency to be depreciatory, being mostly given by opponents, and seldom acknowledged by those to whom they are applied’. To use language reflective of what the Express termed ‘odious Germanic taint’ could be seen as highly problematic – prompting, as we have seen, a range of acts of renaming and redefinition.

One of Clark’s particularly interesting examples in this context was the advertising campaign taken out in the autumn of 1914 by Krieger, the brand name of what was given as ‘the electric carriage syndicate’. Here, as the company realised, form and meaning could intersect in newly problematic ways. Krieger was, in some ways, ahead of its time – its electric vehicles offer early prototypes of a technology being explored and extended today. Clark noted the collocation electric carriage (also absent from the OED) as a combination of marked interest; if ‘carriages’ looked back to the past, ‘electric’ offered a new sense of modernity (as well as extending early designations of the car as ‘horseless carriage’). Nevertheless, as war began, the suspicion that, for Krieger, its name (and hence its products)—might also be seen as overly ‘Teutonised’ (and, indeed, ‘Germanophile’) was a source of self-evident concern. Krieg, as the German word for ‘war’, seemed less than ideal as a defining element in the name by which the product was popularly known, not least given the prevalence of similar Germanic forms – such as kriegspiel or kriegsmetall — in other contemporary (and highly negative) news accounts.

For Krieger, a range of advertisements therefore swiftly appeared, proclaiming British national identity and unimpeachable patriotic credentials.

‘The above company has been, from its formation in April 1903, a British Company’,

as readers were, for example, reminded. More to the point, perception of its association with German krieg is depicted as misguided in the extreme. Visual similarity was, it stressed, a false friend indeed; only in error, we are informed, could the brand names be read as krieg plus er, with its disturbing associations of militarism and aggression. Form — in both speech and writing – is strategically repositioned, while recent history clearly demanded a set of history lessons of its own. In the advertising which appears in autumn 1914, the name loses its hard Germanic /g/ and gains a small but suggestive é acute.

Etymology, in turn, is made to validate not the all too negative German krieg but instead an identity in French by which Krieger derives not form Krieg plus er, but from a ‘Monsieur Kriéger’, a Frenchman, resident in Paris, where

‘the original Kriéger Company was formed, and from whom the London Krieger company purchased its patents’.

Form was renegotiated once more – Kriéger, once French, had become British by losing its distinctive é, as well as gaining a different pronunciation. Commercial and linguistic assimilation had worked together. With the advent of war, the accent was, however, to be put on success in quite literal ways. Advertising campaigns carefully stress the allegiance which the small but significant é confirms. Krieger was carefully distanced while Kriéger could, as potential purchasers were reassured, be bought without qualms. French diacritics could get a new lease of life in English. Language, yet again, could be used with tactical intent — here, in what one might nevertheless see, as a strategic exercise in damange limitation.***

Notes

**Culture derives, as OED confirms, from Latin cultūra, and was borrowed into English via Anglo-Norman and Middle French after the Normal Conquest. Originally used to refer to literal cultivation of the land, German ideas of culture (signifying the ideas, customs, etc. of a society or group) became prominent in English after the eighteenth century. See culture (n.), OED Online.

*** Modern parallels can be found in the suddenly negative connotations of ‘Isis’ as a company name, as reported in the press in November 2014. This, too, can prompt issues of identity and subsequent rebranding.

So what is this thing called “war”?

War, with some irony, did not yet exist in the Oxford English Dictionary as Clark began his project of collecting up the vocabulary of what we now know as the First World War. The relevant section of the Dictionary would not be published until 1921. Our modern terminology depends, of course, firmly on hindsight. A first world war, as we now know, was followed by a second. The numerical sequencing offers ominous potential for a third or fourth which, as yet, remain unrealised.

Here, too, both language and history in 1914 could offer the potential for other modes of expression to come to the fore.  How exactly this war was seen and discussed in its first few weeks – when its duration and scale were as yet unknown — can therefore be especially interesting.  The Daily Express on Friday 11th Sept was, for example, already contemplating the coming “war winter:  ’Everybody is preparing for a “war winter”’, it stated, in ways which also suggest some problems for the popular mythography by which WWI was expected to be ‘over by Christmas’. German plans for a quick defeat of France had failed. The conflict seemed likely to set in. “War winter”, set apart by its framing scare quotes, is clearly a form which both Clark and the Daily Express regarded as new and distinctive, andparticularly evocative of time and place.

As in the South African or Boer War to which comparison is often made in these early weeks, the geographical limits of conflict can also influence the terms which appear. ‘In the South Africa war we wanted men who could shoot and could ride horses; in this European war we want men who can shoot and ride bicycles, as the Daily Express on September 1st had explained. War here is distinctively ‘European’ — Germany, Russia, France, Britain, and Belgium were, for example, all involved. Conflict had not yet spread across the globe. Language, obsolescence, and history can, of course, all neatly interact in the rise and fall of labels of this kind: the European war would prove ephemeral — not because war ended, but because it transformed into something  far larger. As the Scotsman on 11 September already suggests, its potential is already seen as such that it can be referred to as a great war; it stressed, without reservation, ‘the justice of the cause of Britain in the great war’.

Interestingly, as Clark’s notebooks attest, the diction of the world war, and other associated compounds, also appears within the first few weeks of conflict. The Daily Express on September 1st 1914 could, for example, also move with surprising rapidity into the diction of a war which was already seen in global terms. ‘The result of this world-war may depend on a very slight preponderance of force of either side’, it stated. Here, too, shirking was not an option; the obligation for everyone who could participate was made plain. As the Daily Express warned two days later, here providing another compound for Clark’s growing collection, the enemy was intent on world-dominationWorld-conflict was similar, used in the Scotsman on 15th September, as was world-Empire, which had been used in the same newspaper four days earlier. Such forms can, however, prove false friends in more ways than one. These early compounds with world- are not always what they might seem. As in the last three examples, they deliberately appropriate German habits of word-formation – and hyphenation – on analogy, as Clark observes, with forms such as Welt-politik and Welt-reich. This can, in the popular press, be used to provide a neat linguistic mirroring of the extent of German ambition, and the language in which this was expressed. As Clark realised, German – not English, was the driving force behind such uses, in ways which could prove remarkably prevalent over the early months of war.

As in the Scotsman on Friday 11 September, compounds with world- serve therefore to crystallize the aggrandizing ambition of the enemy, here with the potential to create a world-Empire. Reportage is from a German point of view; context is all-important:

war with France was received with satisfaction, as there were colonies to be annexed. England’s intervention was hailed with jubilation, as indicating the magnificent prospect of world-Empire that success would bring.

A further report in the Scotsman on Friday 18th September makes these critical differences of language and identity plain, setting a world-destiny used of Germany (and German ambitions) against a destiny that Britain must instead seize for the good:

Whatever the world-destiny of Germany may be, we in Great Britain are ourselves conscious of a destiny and a duty. That destiny and duty, alike for us and all the English-speaking race, call upon us to uphold the common rule of justice’

Forms such as these are, in effect, loan-translations – unfamiliarity acts to distance and divide. Newness hence co-exists with another aspect by which aliens (and the alien in other respects) can deliberately be set against apart. Punctuation – often ignored – can, as here, inform a highly critical reading. The Allies were intentionally fighting a European war – citations from German speeches, as reported in the press, stressed instead the desire for a world-war by which conquest might be far-reaching. Like the contrast between German kolossal and BrE colossal — which, as Clark notes, was another strategic and popular, opposition in contemporary accounts– the form of words could act as another image of nationhood, raising other issues by which people are seen to speak – or not – the ‘same’ language. In the words of the Scotsman, ‘we’, as an ‘English-speaking race’ were seeking a war in which a ‘world-destiny’ might not be realised. Language can be used to set up borders which, at least intentionally, put the enemy on the outside.

Allies and Enemies: taking sides in the language of war

 

Reading the Scotsman in February 1914, Clark had noted with interest the appearance of a lengthy set of articles on names and naming by Herbert Maxwell. He excised its variant components carefully, and pasted them into his early notebooks on language, providing annotations where necessary. Language, as the article had stressed, could readily reveal the patterning of power and control, as in the impact of the ‘feudal language of ownership’ following the Norman Conquest, and the legacies that English surnames continue to reveal. Names, Maxwell had stressed, eloquently conveyed their own history – whether this reflected the features of the local landscape, or the patterns of invasion and occupation that history likewise confirmed.

That contemporary history would swiftly reveal a similar play of language and power would perhaps have surprised Maxwell. Speaking the same language – or its converse – would, in these terms, be rendered a particularly effective metaphor, with some strikingly practical consequences. French, as we will see, could in these terms become a familiar – and often unglossed –component of newspaper despatches. Readers of the Daily Express would, in the early days of war, hence encounter a range of locutions unrecorded in the OED as it then existed (‘there is room enough to spare in all the cafes at this hour of the aperitif, where only a few of the old customers sit around and study the ‘temps’’, as Clark noted, pasting in his notebook an extract from an article set in the cafes of Paris in late August 1914;  similar are his notes on laissez-passer and guichet as other aspects of local colour and newly assumed fluency for readers of the English press (‘In the morning I was warned by the landlord that I would not get out of Rouen without a laissez-passer’ (5 Sept 1914, Daily Express), ‘I demanded my ticket at the guichet’ (ibid). French signals solidarity, togetherness, and alliance.

Elsewhere, language – and languages – could be used to emblematize the political divides of war in very different ways. ‘To use English words is the greatest crime’, as the Scotsman reported in an article on Germany on 7th Sept  1914, picking out specific examples of both silencing and rejection:  ‘the Hamburg people no longer play bridge, but Brücke’, it noted. Clark noted down both the word, and its significance (1/81). ‘Bridge’ was verboten. Place-names likewise attract a flurry of interest, prompting both resistance and counter-attack in linguistic terms. Here, being German-named gained newly negative connotations as the Daily Express confirmed, here in another compound which, for Clark, usefully revealed the play of words in time:

The change in the name of the capital has been received with popular enthusiasm, and other German-named towns, such as Schluesselburg, ask for the transformation of their names [Daily Express, September 3rd 1914]

Language, as Clark notes, was here used ‘to intimate [the] repudiation of German influence’. The shift of St Peterburg to Petrograd is, in this respect, extensively documented in the early weeks of war. ‘The substitution of the Slavonic “grad” for the Germanic “burg” in the termination of the “Petersburg” is an interesting and significant effect of the war’, as an article in the Scotsman declared 2 Sept 1914:  ‘The change in the name of the capital has been received with popular enthusiasm, the German terminology of the late name having become an anomaly in existing circumstances’. This was reported in the Daily Express under the heading Germanism (DE Wed 2 Sept), providing, for Clark still further evidence of the divisions – and changes – language would enact.  Even if, as the article records, ‘This is, perhaps, one of the trivialities of war’, it was nevertheless also able to be depicted as ‘significant proof of the deep hatred of Prussian militarism which extends from one end of Europe to another’. For Clark, the article gave another locution – rechristen — which also seemed to signal the changes taking place, and the strategic patterns which language could reveal.

In Berlin they have Teutonised the names of the Hotel Westminster and the Hotel Bristol. The Russians have been more magnificent. Their capital, Petersburg, has a German name. It is now patriotically re-christened Petrograd.

Petrograd became the newly accepted norm, and by September 6th, Clark is documenting its extension to adjective as well as noun. ‘’the military critics in the Petrograd press infer that the next few days will bring news of a very important character’ as the Scotsman recorded on 8 Sept 1914.

Even if not entirely convinced by their currency, or the facts of actual use, he tracked a range of other similar neologisms. ‘Brusselsburg: a silly invention to describe Brussels as having passed under German rule’, he noted, against another clipping in his first notebook, headed ‘Brusselsburg. Life under the new William the Conqueror’. The ‘suggestion of the word’, as Clark explains, drew on the analogy of Petrograd.  Such forms were evanescent, and would certainly never make their way into the Oxford English Dictionary (which maintained, in any case, a policy of avoiding proper nouns). They were, however, also profoundly evocative of the historical moment; as Clark’s notebooks confirm, history and ideology, and new acts of feudal dominance, clearly prompted coinages of this kind.

[Citations from the Clark archive, and vol.1 of ‘English Words in War-Time’ provided courtesy of The Bodleian Libraries, University of Oxford]