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   Chapter 13 WORDS MADE BY WAR.

Stories That Words Tell Us By Elizabeth O'Neill Characters: 11596

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:04


Since the earliest ages men have made war on one another, and we have a great crowd of words, new and old, connected with war. Some of these are very simple words, especially the names of early weapons; some are more elaborate and more interesting in their derivation.

The chief of all weapons, the sword, has its simple name from the Old English language itself, and so has the spear. But it was after the Norman conquest of England that war became more elaborate, with armoured knights and fortified towers, and nearly all the names connected with war of this sort come to us from the French of that time. The word war itself comes from the Old French word werre. Battle, too, comes from the French of this time; and so do armour, arms, fortress, siege, conquer, pursue, tower, banner, and many other words. All of these words came into French originally from Latin. Knight, however, is an Old English word. The French word for knight, chevalier, never passed into English, but from it we got the word chivalry.

The great weapons of modern warfare are the gun and the bayonet. There are, of course, many kinds of guns, small and large. Formerly it was the fashion to call the big guns by the name of cannon, but in the great European war this word has hardly been used at all. They are all "guns," from the rifles carried by the foot soldiers to the Maxims and the great howitzers which each require a company of men to serve them. The word cannon comes from the French canon, and is sometimes spelt in this way in English too. It means "great tube."

The derivation of the word gun is more interesting. Gunpowder was not really discovered until the fifteenth century, but long before this a kind of machine, or gun, for hurling great stones, or sometimes arrows, had been used. These instruments were called by the Latin word ballista (for the Romans had also had machines of this sort), which comes from the Greek word ballo, meaning "throw." In the Middle Ages weapons of this sort were called by proper names, just as ships are now. A common name for them was the woman's name Gunhilda, which would be turned into Gunna for short. It is probably from this that we get the word gun. The most interesting of all the guns used in the Great War has only a number for its name. It is the famous French '75, and takes this name merely from a measurement.

The special weapon of the foot soldier, or infantryman, is the bayonet. This is a short blade which the foot soldier fixes on the muzzle of his rifle before he advances to an attack. In the trenches his weapon is the rifle; before the order is given to go "over the parapet"-that is, to climb out of the trenches, to run forward and attack the enemy at close quarters-he "fixes his bayonet." The word bayonet probably comes from Bayonne, the name of a town in France.

The word infantry itself, now used to describe regiments of foot soldiers armed with the ordinary weapons, comes to us, like most of our words connected with war, from the French. We have already seen that the words of this sort which we borrowed in the Middle Ages were Norman-French words descended from Latin. But after the use of gunpowder in war became general there were many new terms; and as at this time the Italians were the people who fought most, and wrote most about fighting, many words relating to the methods of war after the close of the Middle Ages were Italian words. It is true that we learned them from the French, for the great writers on military matters in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries were Frenchmen. But they borrowed many words from the Italian writers of the fifteenth century. One of these words is infantry, which means a number of junior soldiers or "infants"-the regiments of foot soldiers being made up of young men, while the older and more experienced soldiers made up the cavalry.

This, again, is a word which we borrowed from the French, and which the French had borrowed from the Italians. Cavalry is, of course, the name for horse soldiers, and the Italian word cavalleria, from which it comes, was itself derived from the Latin word caballus, "a horse." The general weapon for a cavalryman is the "sabre," a sword with a curved blade. This, again, comes to us from the French, but was probably originally an Eastern word. It is quite common for officers, in reckoning the number of men in an army, to speak of so many "bayonets" and so many "sabres," instead of "infantry" and "cavalry."

Many of the words which people began to use familiarly during the great European war first came into English in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, a time when it seemed to be the ordinary state of affairs for some, at least, of the European countries to be at war with one another. Bivouac is a word which was used a good deal in descriptions of earlier wars. It is a German word, which came into English at the time of the Thirty Years' War (1618-1648) in Germany. It means an encampment for a short time only (often for the night), without tents. It plainly has not much connection with modern trench warfare.

Another word which came from the German at the same time may serve to remind us that the German soldier of to-day is not very much unlike his ancestors of three hundred years ago. The word plunder was originally a German word meaning "bed-clothes" or other household furnishing. From the fact that so much of this kind of thing was carried off in the fighting of this terrible war, the word came to have its present sense of anything taken violently from its rightful owner. It must be confessed that the word was also used a great deal in the English Civil War, which was, of course, fought at the same time as the end of the Thirty Years' War.

It was also in the English Civil War that we

first find the word capitulation, which now generally means to surrender on certain conditions. Before this, capitulation had more the meaning which it still keeps in recapitulation. It meant an arrangement under headings, and the word probably was transferred from describing the terms of surrender to describing the surrender itself.

One of the many words connected with war which came into the English language from the French in the seventeenth century was parade, which means the showing off of troops, and came into French from an Italian word which itself came from the Latin word parare, "to prepare." Another of these words which has been much used in descriptions of the battles of the Great War, and especially in the "Battle of the Rivers" in the autumn of 1914, is pontoon. Pontoons are flat-bottomed boats by means of which soldiers make a temporary bridge across rivers, generally when the permanent bridges have been destroyed by the enemy. The word is ponton in French, and comes from the Latin pons, "a bridge." Most words of this sort in French ending in on take the ending oon in English. Thus ballon in French becomes balloon in English. Barracks also comes from the French baraque, and the French had it from the Spanish or Italian barraca or baraca; but no one knows whence these languages got the word.

The word bombard, also much used during the Great War, came into English at the end of the seventeenth century from the French word bombarder, which came from the Latin word bombarda, an engine for throwing stones, and which in its turn came from the Latin word bombus, meaning "hum." Even a stone hurled with great force through the air makes a humming noise, and the "singing" of the bombs and shells hurled through the air became a very familiar sound to the soldiers who fought in the Great War. The word bomb, too, comes from the French bombe.

The words brigade and brigadier also came from the French at this time. So, too, did the word fusilier, a name which some British regiments still keep (for example, the Royal Fusiliers), though they are no longer armed with the old-fashioned musket known as the fusil, the name of which also came from the French, which had it from the Latin word focus, "a hearth" or "fire." It is curious how the names of modern British regiments, not even carrying the weapons from which they have their names, should take us back in this way to the days of early Rome.

The word patrol, which was used very much especially in the early days of the Great War, has an interesting origin. It may mean a small body of soldiers or police sent out to go round a garrison, or camp, or town, to keep watch; or, again, it may mean a small body of troops sent on before an advancing army to "reconnoitre"-that is, to spy out the land, the position of the enemy, etc. The word patrol literally means to "paddle in mud," for the French word, patrouille, from which it came into English in the seventeenth century, came from an earlier word with this meaning.

The word campaign, by which we mean a number of battles fought within a certain time, and generally according to a plan arranged beforehand, also came from the French word campagne at the beginning of the eighteenth century-a century of great wars and many campaigns. The word was more used in those earlier wars than it is now, because in those days the armies used practically never to fight in the winter, and so each summer during a war had its "campaign." The earlier meaning of the French word campagne, and one which it still keeps besides this later meaning, is "open country," the kind of country over which battles were generally fought.

Recruit is another word which came into English from the French at this time. It, again, is a word which has been used a great deal in the European war. It came from the French word recrue, which also means a newly-enlisted soldier. The French word cro?tre, from which recrue came, was derived from the Latin word crescere, "to increase."

All these words, we should notice, have now a figurative use. We speak of "recruits" not only to the army, but to any society. Thus we may say a person is a valuable "recruit" to the cause of temperance, etc. A "campaign" can be fought not only on the field of battle, but through newspapers, meetings, etc. It is in this sense that we speak of the "campaign" for women's suffrage, etc.

Many words relating to the dress and habits of our soldiers have curious origins. We say now quite naturally that a man is "in khaki" when we mean that he is a soldier, because the peculiar yellow-brown colour which is known as "khaki" is now the regular colour of the uniform of the British soldier. In earlier days the British soldier was generally a "redcoat," but in modern trench warfare it is so important that the enemy should not be able to pick out easily the position of groups of men in order to "shell" them, that the armies of all nations use gray or brown or other dull shades. Khaki is a word which came into English through the South African War, when the policy of clothing the soldiers in this way was first begun on a large scale. It comes from a Hindu word, khak, which means "dust." The object of this kind of clothing for our soldiers is that they shall not be easily distinguished from the soil of the trenches and battle-fields.

When a soldier or officer or any other person who is generally in uniform wears ordinary clothes we say he is "in mufti." This, again, is an Arab word meaning "Mohammedan priest."

The soldiers in the Great War used many new words which became a regular part of their speech. They were chiefly "slang," but it is quite possible that some of them may pass into good English. We shall see something of them in a later chapter.

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