Watching change in progress: shrapnel

The aim behind Clark’s ‘Words in War-Time’ project was to look at language, history, and their interrelationship, at close quarters. While the Oxford English Dictionary applied historical principles to language from 1150 to the present day, Clark aimed to look at language, and history, as it happened – testing historical principles in the everyday and as prompted by what gradually emerged as one of the most significant historical events of the twentieth century. A range of words can, in different ways, reveal, and confirm, change in progress (in language and war alike) in the autumn of 1914 – confirming, too, Clark’s intuitions about the salience of observing language in a period of unprecedented historical change.

Shrapnel, mentioned briefly in an earlier post, was, for example, particularly interesting in the changing patterns of use that Clark’s early notebooks reveal. This had, in fact, been one of the most recent entries in the OED as it then existed.  The relevant section of the dictionary had been published in late March 1914; as the image below illustrates, the history of shrapnel was tracked from 1806 when the inventiveness of General Shrapnel in the Peninsular war gave his name to this new mode of attack and defence. Shrapnel, the OED wrote, was ‘A hollow projectile containing bullets and a small bursting charge, which when fired by the time fuse, bursts the shell and scatters the bullets in a shower’. As this definition indicates, the shrapnel is the casing, and the contents are the bullets. Constructions such as shrapnel shell, as in the quotations from 1870 and 1890, make this meaning particularly clear.

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Tracking language in use in September and October 1914, this meaning of shrapnel, as Clark demonstrates, is, as expected, often in evidence. An article headed ‘The Battle of Soissons. A View of the Fighting’, which Clark took from the Scotsman on the 16th of September described, for example, the paradoxical beauty of war:

As a panoramic scene the engagement was beautiful. The day was cold and clear. The city, particularly the cathedral, stood out in bold relief in its little valley, while the shrapnel exploded above it in balloon-like floating white puffs. Occasionally black smoke rose where the siege shells burst.

In this account, shrapnel – just as in the OED — is a single entity which explodes, scattering its contents to fall with intentionally devastating effects on those below. Other comments in the same article make this sense particularly plain:

the French shrapnel exploded low and accurately’

My first view of the fighting was shrapnel bursting about the beautiful two-steepled cathedral’.

Yet, at the same time, another transferred use also starts to be perceptible in Clark’s notebooks. Here, shrapnel instead comes, by a process of semantic extension, to designate the contents of the shell rather than the shell itself. By the 28th of September, for example, the two senses co-exist, as in the following extract from the Scotsman:

As soon as the French infantry deploy their ranks and appear in the open they are met with showers of shrapnel, which also is not as deadly as it looks from a distance. Then follows the hurried “tat-tat-tat” of machine-guns from the woods and spinneys, and then the long rattle of musketry from the trenches along the ridges.

As in this highly visual account, the showers of shrapnel fall from the shells which have already exploded; meaning is taken in directions which the OED entry of six months before had conspicuously not included. As Clark realised, equally significant in this respect was the rise of new compounds (in both adjective and noun) such as shrapnel splinter  and shrapnel bullet. These serve to consolidate the patterns of semantic transfer at work, making plain the shift in the physical form that shrapnel is assumed to have, as well as its changing orientation of sense:

we have a lovely little hutch … just room for three to lie down, and the top is shrapnel-splinter proof. We have had one or two bits landing on it. [‘Stories of the Fighting’, Daily Express October 20th 1914]

In the case of these arrows and bullets it is sufficient to release them, without any initial momentum because the speed which they gather in flight, due to gravity, ensures their reaching the earth with considerable velocity, which increases in proportion to the height of the aircraft… In the case of shrapnel bullets, weighing, say, twenty to the pound, this would mean a striking energy of 160 foot pounds’ (Daily Express 19th September 1914)

Mme. van Dessalaere was struck in her right leg by shrapnel bullets, and her recovery is not expected … shrapnel struck her down (Daily Express, October 7th 1914)

Shrapnel in the last two examples is transferred to the bullets  which fall with lethal force to earth; in the former, it  is a ‘splinter’ – designating the ‘bits’ that shells contain rather than the shell per se (although this may, of course, also signal the ‘bits’ of the disintegrating shell). As the final example confirms, however, shrapnel can also be used without the specifying bullets to indicate the mode of injury and attack.

As in the quotation from the Scotsman above, sense-divisions of this kind also  came to contribute to common images of the ‘rain’ or ‘hail’ of shells in contemporary accounts of the life at the front. ‘The moment a few battalions had crossed, shrapnel began to rain in on our men as if from the blue above’, as the Evening News noted on October 1st 1914, in an article entitled ‘Heroic Royal Engineers’. Another similar example occurs in the Daily Express on October 20th 1914:

‘We spent two days in the trenches under a rain of shell fire, and we got quite clever in judging the distance at which their shells would burst by the hum of the blooming things’ [‘Thrilling adventures in the Retreat from Antwerp’, Daily Express, October 20 1914]

In the autumn of 1914, Clark can therefore reveal the play of  meaning and changing familiarization of this word as both noun and adjective. For a time, in popular comment in the autumn of 1914,  shrapnel can ambiguously designate both whole and part, projectile and the hostile contents of the shells which sailed overhead. By the end of October, the OED entry of six months earlier was therefore distinctly out of date. History – and language – had moved on. Shrapnel had not only one sense but three. If meaning begins, historically, in a single type of shell, it swiftly extends, during the terrible familiarization of WW1,  to denote the contents of that type of shell. As war advances, however, it can, in turn, lose its reference to this specific shell-type, designating, more broadly, the devastating contents of bombs, together with the kinds of widespread injury they cause, as in compounds such as shrapnel wounds, shrapnel injuries. The meaning ‘Fragments from shells or bombs’  is ‘Now the usual sense.’, as the modern OED notes, dating such use to October 1914. ** As Clark confirms therefore, while General Shrapnel — in yet another eponym of English — gives his name to this spherical projectile, it was language in use along the front, and by soldiers rather than generals, which instead gradually changed the patterns of signification which remain in use today.

** The revised OED entry can be seen at shrapnel, n.” OED Online. Oxford University Press, September 2014. Web. 1 December 2014.

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Shattering the nerves: sound effects in WWI

Nerves – and the importance, as well as difficulty, of keeping one’s nerve — was a recurrent image which runs through reports of war in the autumn of 1914. To have nerve was to be commended; the word had been used figuratively in denoting bravery, vigour, and force since the Renaissance. The specific sense ‘coolness in adversity or danger; boldness; courage, assurance’ is documented from 1809 in the Oxford English Dictionary. Yet, by the eighteenth century, nerve could also point in other, diametrically opposed, directions. Used in the plural, nerves suggested not valour but nervousness, a heightened sensitivity to events which by no means augured well in a time of war. Nerve and nerviness could, as a result, work in mutually exclusive ways. If nerviness is documented only from 1916 in OED Online (being attested in Vera Brittain’s letters),** the reality of language practice in WWI, as Clark’s notebooks confirm, was very different. Already in August 1914 readers of the Daily Express were reassured about the calm fortitude of the British Expeditionary Force. ‘No ‘nerviness’’, the headline on 27th August proclaimed, in a sense which the following article also elaborated:

There is no trace of that “nerviness” so noticeable among the recruities of the early days of South Africa.

Such certainties could, however, be called into question as war advanced. That modern warfare was an attack on the nerves –as much as the body — was often made plain. Long before the term shell-shock come into use, journalists – and soldiers –repeatedly drew attention to the debilitating effects of the sheer noise of battle, by which nerves could be racked and shattered, and in which an ‘attack of nerves’ might overpower even the strongest men. As Clark notes, for example, idioms in which the nerves were shattered attained marked familiarity across the autumn of 1914 and into 1915. If shatter the nerves remained (and remains) absent from the OED (the relevant section of the Dictionary was completed in March 1914), Clark again provides carefully documented evidence –tracking a responsiveness of words to war, and the unprecedented contexts it brought into being:

The effect on the nerves is terrible, and I suppose it intended to shatter the nerves of our men. Only the strongest can stand it for long, and most of us found it best to stuff our ears with cotton wool or tear up out handkerchiefs

as a first-hand account in the Daily Express of 2nd September 1914 proclaimed. ‘Noise seems to count for a lot with the Germans’, another report (in the same newspaper) laconically observed on 19th September 1914.

A similar observation appeared in the Evening News on September 2nd:

It’s the quantity, not the quality of the German shells that is heaving effect on us, and it’s not so much the actual damage to life as the nerve-racking row that counts for so much.

The noise of battle – and the extent of mechanised warfare across a front which, even in early September, stretched, for instance, from the Vosges to Peronne (as the Scotsman  reported), was unparalleled. Shells and shrapnel repeatedly scream and screech across the skies (in a range  of new collocations of English), testing the nerves as well as bringing danger in other forms: ‘The scream of shrapnel did not daunt us and, yelling and shouting, we became frantic and so did our horses. The rifle fire was soon silenced, as we must have ridden down the German infantry and cut them to pieces’, as an article in the Evening News stated on 29th September 1914. ‘The shells screeched hour after hour’, the Scotsman notes on 17 September 1914. The men were faced by a ‘terrestrial thunderstorm’, as the Evening News commented on 19th September 1914, attempting to suggest somehwar of what modern battle was like.

Trying to convey the reality of war on these terms was challenging, requiring other distinctive forms of ‘word-imagery’ and ‘word-pictures’ to make their way into use. As Clark notes, a strikingly expressive vocabulary can appear. This, too, often remains absent from the OED:

As soon as the French infantry deploy their ranks and appear in the open they are met with showers of shrapnel, which also is not as deadly as it looks from a distance. Then follows the hurried “tat-tat-tat” of machine-guns from the woods and spinneys, and then the long rattle of musketry from the trenches along the ridges

as a lengthy and descriptive article in the Scotsman stated on 28 September 1914. This confirmed, too, a new (and newly familiarised) sense of shrapnel, by which it came to be understood as ‘fragments from shells or bomb’s, rather than explosive shells per se). Shrapnel was documented in the OED in this sense from October 1914 (in a section revised in June 2014). Here, too, Clark’s evidence antedates the formal record of English and its history.

News discourse, as Clark notes, could strive for a marked sense of the onomatopoeic in this respect.

The rattle of the machine guns supplemented the noise of the naval guns. Then the field artillery added to the chorus. But all this noise could not drown the irregular rat-tat-tat of the infantry’ [ ‘British Squadron off the Belgian Coast: Shelling the Germans’, Scotsman 21 October 1914].

Likewise, the Daily Express on September 2nd draws attention to the ‘r-r-r-r-r–h of the Maxims’, while ‘the peculiar zh-zh-zh-zh of the shrapnel’ featured in the Daily Express on 14th September 1914. ‘You could hear the mitrailleuse ta-ta, ta-ta, ta-ta’, wrote a journalist in the Daily Express on October 17th 1914, describing an ‘air-duel’; similar was the click-click-wh-wh-wh -of the murderous machine’, here in attempts to evoke the flight of an ‘aerial pirate’ over Paris in the Evening News on 3rd September 1914.

Modern war-reporting can, of course, use not only print and the form of the written word, but also sound itself. In broadcast news, we can be offered an experiential directness – the war-reporter not only speaks directly, but the sounds of war can provide an all too evocative backdrop to events. Writing war in 1914 was very different; the BBC – and national radio — would not, for example, be formed until after the war. If we have war reports (and sound recording) for WWII, it was print which dominated in WW1. News reporting can, as a result, often engage with a determined attempt to covey the sounds and texture of war in ways which are highly distinctive. As a later post on this site will explore, however, other media were already starting to emerge. ‘The Cinemagraph is going to be a damning witness against the Germans in this war. The Kinemacolour pictures … reveal to those who cannot see it with their own eyes, the full tragedy of Louvain and the other towns destroyed by the Kaiser’s shining amour’, we are, for example, informed early in September 1914. ‘Pictures’ and ‘word-pictures’ would, in this respect, importantly come to co-exist. As Clark noted, this visual language was also absent from the OED as it then existed, offering still further scope for his documetnary ventures in the war of words.

** See nerviness OED Online (revised Sept 2003),sense 2: ‘The quality or condition of being nervous.

1916:  Vera Brittain Let. 1 Sept. in Lett. Lost Generation (2012) 248.  “To have the face of a leader of men strong almost to unscrupulousness combined with an almost entire absence of self-esteem, and an excessive reserve & nervy-ness & shyness, is certainly an incongruity”.

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.

The comforts of war

Comfort, as Clark noted, was a term which moved into marked prominence in the autumn of 1914. The word had, of course, long existed, being borrowed — here in other manifestations of war, language, and their intersection — from Old French confort after the Norman Conquest of 1066. The native equivalents (frefran, to comfort; frofre, comfort), used throughout Old English, had gradually been displaced. War, just as in later years, could bring both loss and gain when seen in terms of language.

Comfort in WWI assumed however, distinctive new meanings. Its long-standing existence as abstract noun – variously signifying, as the Oxford English Dictionary confirms, aid, consolation, solace as well as relief (especially in periods of want or distress) — could, as a range of articles in September and October 1914 confirm, acquire a strikingly materiality. Comfort can be manufactured and despatched, consumed and worn. A letter in the Scotsman on Thursday 11th September 1914 drew attention, for example, to the changing use of this term:

“Your readers may have observed that the formal sanction of the Admiralty has now been given to the supply of “comforts” for the men of the fleet’.

Here, the framing quotation marks set the new form apart, registering the departures which comforts of this kind present. Home comforts existed, by definition, within the intimacy, warmth, and protection of the domestic space. In this light, those serving in the Admiralty or at the Front were, of necessity, comfortless, rendered remote from consolations of this kind. The warmth of home was displaced by far more testing physical conditions. Comforts (usually appearing the plural) were, as a result, often seen in a tangible and physical form; they are items which will bring comfort, allaying the physical deprivations of war. Early uses in Clark’s notebooks focus in particualr on the sense of warmth, stressing comfort as a commodity that can be manufactured at home, before being despatched to those in need.

The letter in the Scotsman, for instance, carefully specifies the forms which comforts in a time of war might best take: ‘the articles which at the moment will be most use to officers and men in ships afloat are cardigan jackets, 44 inches chest; jerseys full size; Balaclava helmets, mufflers 2 yards long, 10 inches wide, fingerless gloves, mittens’. Such comforts will, quite literally, warm the recipient. Doing one’s bit in a time of war would, by extension, assume interestingly gendered forms, as a further article in the Daily Express makes plain:

‘The admiralty authorities have issued a list of knitted articles that are specially required by the sailors during the cold weather, and there is no doubt that wives and mothers will be only too glad to set to work to provide these necessary comforts’ (Daily Express, 21 Sept 1914).

Here, the inverted commas of comforts have disappeared. The word is assumed to be familiarised, together with the actions it required. Against sailors and the ‘men of the fleet’ who work for the national cause, the article evokes a set of home-workers, engaged in working parties, where dedicated industry and application of British women must also play their part. Knitting recipes, it declared, were clearly ‘invaluable at the moment’; Clark noted down this new compound (still not in OED), noting too the diction of the home-worker (as well as cardigan jackets – both of which offered other absences within the OED as it then existed).**

The war effort, as here, could clearly take many forms. Across Europe, a shared image of female endeavour would be a subject of comment, as well as patriotic endeavour. ‘Every female in Germany between twelve and eight is busy knitting– in the streets, in omnibuses, in doctors’ waiting-rooms, in tea-rooms, everywhere. They knit bandages, wristlets, and the like, for all the soldiers in the field’, as the Daily Express had commented on Fri 11 Sept 1914.  The need for comfort crossed national boundaries, and political divisions. Wristlet, as Clark observed, was another unfamiliar word, as well as another novel form in which comfort might be manifest. Lumbago belts and body belts presented other forms unrecorded in the Oxford English Dictionary. The image of a surprisingly home-spun army – on both sides — can be pervasive.

So too can a sense of the pressures, and moral obligation, placed on those at home at contribute in this way. ‘The Government intends to have every soldier provided with a belt to ward off those chills which cause so many deadly ailments on a battlefield’, an article in the Scotsman on 28th October 1914 declared: ‘it behoves every person to do their utmost to provide these comforts with as little delay as possible, and so assist these brave men to maintain their health, and enable them to withstand the rigours of the coming winter campaign’. If those at the Front fight the literal enemy, those at home were to aid in combatting cold as another enemy that might bring defeat as well as death. Endeavour is made reciprocal,

Here, too, expectations of a lengthy campaign – and a coming war winter – are plain. War is made a collective enterprise in which anyone and everyone should contribute. Comforts meanwhile, as later posts will explore, would expand to include a wide and increasingly diverse range of commodities.***

**Home-worker (defined as ‘A person who works at home, esp. as distinguished from one working in a factory or office’) would eventually be recorded in the OED, in a separate entry, in September 2011. Evidence would be traced back to 1843, though the entry is silent on uses between 1902 and 1973. The distinctive senses of WWI, with their commitment to voluntary industry in a shared war effort, arguably also remain absent in this definition. Cardigan jacket still remains absent.

**** Lumbago belts (still not in OED) clearly required more ingenuity in their construction. The article recommends use of  ‘a work undershirt or a set of men’s pants, the sleeves or legs of which, as the case may be, are worn round the waist, and fixed with webstraps or buckles’ such that ‘the main part of the garment’ is ‘allowed to hang down the back like an apron’, in order to protect against the cold of war.

The lights are going out all over London

 

darkness crop 2
Image shows searchlights over a darkened London. © IWM (Art.IWM ART 17172)

In modern English, the institution of the black-out remains of one of the well-known practices of World War Two, attested in the Oxford English Dictionary in quotations such as ‘I slept right through the ‘black-out’ on August 10th’ (taken from the Architectural Review in 1939), or, still earlier, as used in the Lancet in 1935 which reported that there were ‘Compulsory ‘black-outs’ in districts where experiments were being carried out against air attacks’. Nevertheless, as Clark’s notebooks confirm, the black-out had its own antecedent forms in World War One where, as earlier posts have explored, ‘war in the air’ was seen as bringing new dangers not just to those at the Front but also to the civilian population at home.

Sir Edward Grey’s famous comment, at the outbreak of war on 3rd August 1914 that ‘the lamps are going out all over Europe’ could, in this respect, take on an unprecedented literalism. Here, too, other productive intersections of language and contemporary history emerge. Grey’s words easily prompted a metaphorical currency by which the trope of WAR IS A FLAME often appeared — hence war is something that might flicker out in the Scotsman on 7th September 1914 (‘The employment of field artillery will be another of those matters in which we shall want enlightenment as the war goes on or flickers out’) or, conversely, might flare up (the Balkan States are on the ‘verge of a flare-up’, it noted three days earlier). Nevertheless, as teh words in war-time project reveals,  the diction of light – and its absence – could also figure in far more practical ways in the autumn of 1914.

Clark’s notebooks, with their close tracking of change in progress, can be particularly interesting in this respect. As his entries confirm, it is in fact  the desirability of the lights going out — at least in London — which early appears as a matter of marked concern. The language – and reality – of aerial attack again assumes prominence:

‘aerial observations have shown the glare of unshaded shop lights to be potentially dangerous by facilitating aerial attack’,

as an article in the Scotsman records in October 1914. As Clark notes, the profession of ‘illuminating engineer’ – used in the Daily Telegraph and the Scotsman in October 1914, and unrecorded in the OED of Clark’s day, also assumed a new salience. ‘Illuminating engineers are finding much food for thought in the present state of partial lighting of London at night’, the Scotsman stressed on 13th October 1914. If the black-out of later years reflected the complete absence of light, the diction of partial lighting and the policy of ‘semi-darkness’ and ‘light restriction’ – other forms which Clark records as absent in the OED as it then existed – can therefore widely evoke the ways in which language and historical response change in tandem given the perceived threat of attack in a new and modern war:

‘The conditions of semi-darkness’ have been ‘wisely enforced by the authorities with the aim of thwarting any night attack by air on the Metropolis’ (Scotsman, October 13th 1914).

The new language of  ‘Light restriction’ as a precaution again attack is,documented on 23rd September in the Scotsman, though the fact that this was used to illustrate other aspects of the German ‘lie bureau’ at work is made equally plain: ‘Londoners will doubtless be interested to hear that, according to the Neue Frei Presse, the restriction for their electric light is attributable to a lack of electric carbons’.The consequences of what came to be known as the “lights-out order” were evocatively described in an earlier article in the Daily Express on September 11th, offering other locutions which Clark seized for his record of words.

 ‘The cause of the curfew gloom was a notice from the Commissioner of Police asking that bright lights should as far as possible be dimmed’.

As the article noted, the lamps had indeed gone out: ‘London was darker last night than it has ever been since electric light became popular’. As an article in the Evening News likewise commented on 28th September 1914, the capital became ‘more like a provincial city every week’. As part of the  enforcement of ‘semi-darkness’, London moved, gradually, from the brightness of arc lights through the use of glow lamps (which Clark noted from the Daily Express on 11th Sept 1914), and into a deepening ‘gloom’ as winter advanced, and regulations were enforced with greater stringency.

A Non-Starter for Peace

A Non-Starter for Peace

A non-starter in modern use is, as the Oxford English Dictionary confirms, a thing or person which doesn’t start in a race or other kind of competition or test. It is a form which was taken originally from horse-racing, as in the very first use of this word in 1865 which the modern OED attests. If the other horses start, a non-starter is left far behind, never having left the point at which the race begins. This was, as history proves, a sense which was easily extended to a range of other domains. Nevertheless, the first edition of the OED, in progress as the First World War began, had been entirely silent on this word and its use. The relevant section, which covered words in Niche to Nywe, had been published in September 1907. While it provided an extensive section on words with non-, non-starter did not appear.

For Clark, tracking words in wartime, the use of non-starter in the Star on 5th September 1914 was therefore doubly arresting – first for the appearance of what seemed an unrecorded form, but secondly for the quite literally eye-catching statement in which it was deployed:

“A non-starter – The Kaiser, who was nominated only two months ago as the next recipient of the Nobel peace prize”.

This was, by early September 1914, a non-starter indeed. Kaiserism had by that point firmly come to suggest war not peace, being widely used alongside militarism and the politics of aggression. The Scotsman on September 3rd provides a good example; here on-going conflict is seen, from the Allies’ side, as a united effort in “fighting Kaiserism or militarism”. Still more prominent were images of the Kaiser as a ‘modern Attila and his army’, here in the Scotsman on Tuesday 8th September 1914. Similar was reference to the ‘New Attila’ in the Scotsman on 17th September 1914. This linked modern history to another unlikely contender for a peace prize. As the article stated:

‘Fourteen hundred years ago Attila and his Huns desolated Belgium, Holland, and Gaul, and then crossed the Alps to Northern Italy’.

As it added, the historical continuities seemed plain:

’now another Attila, at the head of a horde of barbarian Huns, and he and they are following in the footsteps of their ancient predecessors, burning classic cities and peaceful villages, and murdering indiscriminately men, women, and children, trampling the latter ruthlessly under their horses’ hoofs’.

The language was that of outrage and atrocity, and wilful depredation.

In terms of the history of non-starter and its representation, Clark’s evidence would, in this instance, be read by the OED in the scrutiny given to his notebooks around 1930. It was, however, rejected; n the 1933 Supplement to the OED, nouns such as non-flam (‘That is not inflammable’) are clearly inserted in preference. While a short entry does appear in the second edition of the OED in 1989, this contained no evidence in British English before1932, and even this referred to the more literal sense of the term — rather than the metaphorical one Clark had spotted.

Even in 2003, in a draft revision of the third edition of the Dictionary, the first metaphorical use of non-starter was traced only to 1934. Yet, rather than being a post-war locution, its use had, of course, been there all along in Clark’s carefully assembled lexicon of war-time English. Only in December 2009– and almost a century after Clark first recorded the form,– did Clark’s evidence, and the pithy citation on peace and the Kaiser in the context of war, finally make its way into the OED where it now appears in prominent first position under non-starter in the sense:  ‘A person or thing that is unlikely to succeed or be effective, or that is to be rejected or discounted at the outset; an impracticable idea’.

If the Kaiser hence proved a resounding non-starter for peace, the Star’s observation proved, at least in terms of language, a point of significant change, while also confirming Clark’s good eye for language on the move.

** See “non-starter”, OED Online.Oxford University Press, September 2014. Web. 20 September 2014.

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.

Being All-British: language and the politics of advertising in WW1

For Clark, advertising — even before war began – had seemed to offer fertile territory for anyone who might be minded to investigate the interactions of language and society. Brand names and the language of persuasion easily exploited other aspects of language and identity, playing on common anxieties and aspirations. As Clark noted, adverts played with meaning in markedly creative ways. War, however, quickly brought other new elements into play, mobilising particular patterns of meaning and connotation to good effect. Nationhood, patriotism, and purchasing could dovetail with precision.
Being All-British, for instance, emerged as a newly prominent locution. This was, and remains, a form unrecorded in the Oxford English Dictionary. Its appearance as a new and hyphenated compound from the first days of WWI nevertheless acted, as a range of clippings in Clark’s notebooks indicate, as a guarantee of quality which was closely aligned with new issues of identity — of both product and purchaser —  in a time of war. As soon as Germany invaded Belgium, commodities on the Home Front, as Clark observed, could be made symbolic of conflict in a wider sense. Buying products manufactured in Germany was popularly conceived as a form of patriotic betrayal, demonstrating a now untenable support for the enemy as well as evoking what was often referred to as ‘Teutonic taint’. Meaning, and use, of relevant words could shift dramatically, as in the ‘“Made-in-Germany” riot ‘which the Daily Express reported on September 26th 1914:

“The appearance of a van laden with cases conspicuously marked “Made in Germany.” created a lively scene yesterday outside the premises of a toy dealer in High Holborn…Soon an angry crowd of nearly a thousand had gathered’

One of the offending cases was set on fire, while the toyshop (outside which the van had parked), denied all knowledge of the consignment. The police were called to sort out the fracas which ensued. For Clark, this provided a new compound adjective, with markedly negative connotations – being ‘Made-in-Germany’ as applied adjective was self-evidently not being read by the assembled crowd as a signifier of quality (as it might have been before the all too partisan politics of war intervened). Instead, as the ensuing ‘riot’ confirmed, it was a form which, displayed on a set of packing cases, was able to evoke widespread opposition and distrust.
In contradistinction, as Clark observed, diction which proclaimed the absence of ‘Teutonic taint’ was deployed as an effective weapon in what seem a widespread war of commodities on the Home Front itself. Advertising for Lyons Tea in September 1914, for instance, made insistent use of this compound as it sought to gain tactical advantage over possible competitors: Lyons, as readers were told, represented an: All-British Company with All-British Directors’, as well as ‘14,000 All-British Shareholders’, and a product which was delivered to ‘160,000 All-British Shopkeepers selling Lyons tea’. All-British likewise heads an advert for Icilma cream (‘made in England by a British Company employing only British workpeople’). This statement was guarded by the visual image of two soldiers in profile, defending product and purchaser alike from any untoward – and unpatriotic — associations. All acted as an intensifer in both quantitiave adn qualitative ways.
Non-native names – like, say, the modern use of French — had, at least in pre-war days, intentionally conveyed the exotic and sophisticated. Yet, in terms of language and the play of connotation, this could now misfire; the non-native might easily prove a liability. Advertisements for Icilma in September 1914 as a a result carefully reminded readers of the links to Arabic rather than German for the name under which it traded: ‘The word “Icilma” is a trade mark, composed of Arabic words, meaning “Flows the water”, as it explained, with reference to “the beautifying Icilma Natural Water which is contained in this famous toilet preparation’ . ‘No other toilet cream contains this wonderful Natural Water’, it stressed. Its purity was thereby guaranteed in more ways than one.
The advertising of Hovis bread on September 12th 1914 conversely suggested an act of patriotic defamation in this respect. War could, it seemed, be fought on many levels, with diverse forms of attack and counter-attack.As the advertisement declared:

‘It having come to our knowledge that a rumour has been spread abroad that this Company is of German origin, we desire to state that this Company is and always has been BRITISH in its composition, is under BRITISH control and employs only BRITISH LABOUR.

It offered a reward of one hundred pounds ‘to anyone who can supply the Company with information leading to a conviction of the person or persons originating the false report’.  Clark’s intuitions on the value of advertising– and its language — would, as his later notebooks confirm, prove highly accurate. Across 1914-18, war – in word and image — could exploited for commercial advantage in a range of sometimes surprising ways.

Recruits and shirkers: identity politics in the early days of war

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Parliamentary Recruiting Committee; L. S. and Co. Austrian National Library. Copyright Free Access – Rights Reserved

To recruit, as the Oxford English Dictionary confirms, has long been in use in English. The first evidence of its military sense occurs in 1655; the corresponding noun was recorded from 1626. Yet, as Clark’s notebooks confirm, the early weeks of war quickly brought other aspects of use into play. Here, too, Clark’s interest in ephemera of all kinds again clearly worked to good effect. Gathering up evidence of lexical and material culture alike, he quickly sent a set of recruiting posters for safe storage to the Bodleian Library in Oxford. Meanwhile, in his notebooks, he commented on recruiting poster as a noun, finding only silence when he tried to look it up in the OED as it then existed.**

In the context of WW1, a recruiting poster was, Clark explained, a printed bill which invited recruits to join the army, He provided a clipping from the Daily Express on August 29th 1914 in careful illustration. The language of recruiting, as Clark’s first notebook records, would in fact neatly mirror the highly public pressure to join up, and ‘do one’s bit’. As the Scotsman reported on Saturday 5th September 1914, Edinburgh had recently witnessed both recruiting marches and recruiting parades. For Clark these confirmed two new combinations which also remained – and remain – absent from the OED, Continue reading

Platoon: tracking lexical life beyond the Oxford English Dictionary

 ‘Whole platoons rushed to the rescue and emptied their magazines into them, and not a few were bayonetted’ ‘”Bravo !’, shouted my platoon commander as he watched the carnage through his field glasses’ Daily Express, 1914 1 Sept

Platoon was one of a number of words where, as Clark’s notebooks confirm, evidence and meaning already seemed to have moved beyond that which the Oxford English Dictionary supplied. Clark’s ‘Not in N.E.D.’ ** appears like a refrain through his early notebooks, set against words such as flag-wagging, an idiomatic locution which he found  in the Daily Express in August 1914. It meant,  Clark explained, ‘boasting of military and naval power of one’s country’, and was a word which was already seen as redolent of an excess of patriotic zeal. Terrace offered other problems. Declared obsolete in the OED, it seemed alive and well in the popular press.  Clark found it, for example,  in reading the pages of the Evening News on  8th September 1914,here in an article  describing French refugees in Britain:  ‘the refugees paces up and down, sat on the chairs and the deck seats, read French papers. The lawns were like the terrace of a fashionable French watering place in the height of the season’.  If terrace had been obsolete for the OED, it was perhaps re-introduced as a loanword, Clark hypothesised.

Platoon was similar. *‘N.E.D. says “obs”, but much in use in 1915’, Clark notes against the quotation from the Daily Express which appears at the top of this post.  OED entries typically offered a model of life-history or biography for each word. Platoon, the dictionary confirmed, had in this light begun to be used in English in the military senses in 1637, signifying A small body of foot-soldiers, detached from a larger body and operating as an organized unit’; it could also mean half a company, a squad, a tactical formation preserved in some armies for purposes of drill, etc.’.  Yet, while the life-history of platoon could, at least in other senses, be tracked in terms of its later use, its role in military diction was deemed to have come to an end in the mid-19th century. ‘it is Obsolete in the British army’, James Murray stated in his entry for the word, drawing on the apparently definitive information given by Stocqueler in his Military Encyclopaedia  of 1853. This was reproduced in the dictionary entry: ‘Platoon, a subdivision or small body of infantry. The word is obsolete, except in the term ‘manual and platoon exercise’’. Later evidence which Murray included in OED1 was, accordingly, both historical and linked to American rather than British use.

Written in 1907, platoon had  in fact formed a relatively recent entry within the still-evolving OED. Clark, just seven  years later, would, however, start  to document a very different history.  Platoon, as the evidence he assembled in his notebook lexicon proved,  had not died but instead, as the popular press attested,  it was indeed  ‘much in use’.  It was moreover used as noun and as adjective, as Clark’s evidence on platoon commander from the Daily Express in September 1914 had also indicated. Rendered alive in the evidence he had before him, yet dead in a national dictionary written on historical principles, the word, and its apparent anomalies, would clearly remain on Clark’s mind.

The OED, as in many other instances which Clark would go on to document during the war years, would in this respect by no means get the last word. One day in 1915 Clark found himself in conversation in Great Leighs with Major Joseph Caldwell, who had served with the London Scottish. Clark took the opportunity to elicit additional information on platoon  As Clark therefore records in a postscript which appears at the end of his first notebook, his quest was successful — enabling  him to fill in at least some of the gaps in the ‘biography’ of platoon. As Major Caldwell confirmed, as far as he could remember it had ‘dropped out of use about the end of Wellington’s campaigns’, but ‘reintroduced in the official orders for drill in 1914’.

In the later 1920s Clark’s material was passed to the OED. While little use was made of it as a whole, platoon was one of the criticisms the dictionary took on board as it prepared a corrected Supplement  for the first edition (which had finally been completed in 1928).  In the 1933 Supplement for the OED, the entry is revised. Platoon is no longer obsolete but, as we are now told,  it was in fact ‘recently revived in the British Army for a unit of infantry forming a fourth part of company and subdivided into four sections of about eight men each’.  Clark, Caldwell, — and the evidence of the Daily Express which prompted Clark’s observations — together with the later editors of the 1933 Supplement who read Clark’s work after his death, would in such ways all combine to produce a corrected version which remains the basis of the modern entry, and platoon’s on-going history as part of military diction. As the Supplement confirmed, Caldwell’s intuition about the change had indeed proved  correct, though the dictionary also managed to find an earlier  citation which located the shift in 1913 (1913   Army Order 323 16 Sept. §4   A company will be divided into four platoons, each commanded by a subaltern…Each platoon will be sub-divided under regulations to be issued later’). Stocqueler’s evidence has in the meantime disappeared as the entry was recently revised in full,  in June 2006, for OED Online (the on-going third edition of the OED).

Those interested in the language of the First World War –and the period in which platoon, as Clark confirms, rose to prominence in early twentieth-century use — might nevertheless find it surprising that the revised evidence in the OED moves from 1913 (and the quotation which is given above), to another  quotation from 1945

H. P. Samwell Infantry Officer with Eighth Army iv. 33   We had agreed that he should bring up Company H.Q. and the reserve platoon behind, while I led the forward platoons

The diction of the war years themselves is silenced, along with the popular sources Clark documents. Likewise, for platoon commander, it is the canonical Wilfrid Owen who is used as the basis of the OED evidence for this period

1917, W. Owen Let. 23 Nov. (1967) 509   Interesting work but hardly ‘lighter’ than a Platoon Commander’s

rather than Clark’s citation form the Daily Express some three years earlier. Clark’s evidence remains in the notebooks, along with his careful tracking of language on the move as witnessed in the reportage of the popular press.

[“platoon, n.” OED Online. Oxford University Press, June 2014. Web. 4 August 2014].

** NED = New English Dictionary, the original title used for the OED in its 1st edition (1884-1928).