11 Words and Phrases Popularized by World War I

Getty Images
Getty Images

This year will mark the 100th anniversary of the start of the First World War. (Mental Floss has been commemorating it in a series of articles on the events leading up to the war). The Oxford English Dictionary is honoring the centenary with an appeal to the public for help in finding the earliest documented uses of words that first came into English during World War I. The current citations for these words are from magazines and newspapers, but there may be earlier examples in personal letters, soldiers' diaries, or government records. Can you find earlier uses? Submit your evidence and help the OED capture the history of our language.

1. Camouflage

Camouflage had been used in French to mean "disguise" since the 19th century. The earliest evidence of its use in English, in reference to hiding weapons from the enemy, comes from 1916.

2. Shell shock

A 1915 study by psychologist Charles Samuel Myers titled, "A contribution to the study of shell shock" is the first documentation for the use of this term in English. "But some accounts suggest that Myers did not invent the term; that it was already in use at the front and Myers merely popularized it (and regretted it: in a later book he described shell shock as a ‘singularly ill-chosen term’)."

3. Jusqu'auboutiste

Jusqu'au bout, "until the end" in French, was the basis for the formation of this noun referring to someone willing to stick it out until the bitter end, to carry a conflict to extremes without worrying about the consequences. The earliest example is from a 1917 issue of Punch, but the use of "jusqu'au bout" in English to describe the attitude goes back at least as early as 1915 so the noun may have been formed earlier.

4. Demob

Short for demobilization. The first quotations for both the noun and verb form come from 1919.

5. Streetcar (meaning "a shell")

The earliest citation for this slang term is from 1920, but the novelist Raymond Chandler claimed in a 1950 letter that this had been one of "the most commonly used words of soldier-slang" when he served in WWI. There may be more evidence out there for this one.

6. Conchie

Short (and usually derisive) for "conscientious objector." The earliest quote comes from a 1917 Daily Mail article. Britain began military conscription in 1916.

7. Trench foot/mouth

The trench warfare of WWI was brutal, and the environment of the trenches where soldiers spent so much time led to painful conditions they called trench foot, and trench mouth. The earliest printed evidence for these terms comes from 1915 and 1917 respectively.

8. Tank (as a verb)

The military tank was first used in 1916 and the word has been used as a noun ever since, but we only have evidence of tank used as a verb in the sense of "attack with a tank" or "travel by tank" since 1930. The OED editors say that while "there is plenty of earlier evidence for the verb tank relating to the noun meaning ‘large receptacle’, we find it surprising that there are no earlier uses of the verb relating to the military vehicle. Is there evidence we haven’t found yet?"

9. Eyetie

Also spelled as "iti" or "eyety," this was a slang term for an Italian. The earliest evidence for this form is a 1919 quote claiming that "our army in Italy always spoke of the Italians as the 'Itis' (pronounced 'Eye-ties')."

10. Zeppelins in a cloud

This phrase was used to mean "sausage and mashed potatoes" according to a 1925 dictionary of Soldier & Sailor Words. But so far no pre-1925 documentation has been found.

11. Sam Browne (meaning "an officer")

Army officers used to wear something called Sam Browne belts in the 19th century, and that gave rise to the use of Sam Browne as a slang term for officer during WWI, though the first evidence for the use is from 1919.

The list of OED appeals for WWI words is here, and you can find out more about what kind of evidence they're looking for and how to submit it here.

Mifflin Madness: Who Is the Greatest Character on The Office? It's Time to Vote

Steve Carell, as Michael Scott, hands out a well-deserved Dundie Award on The Office.
Steve Carell, as Michael Scott, hands out a well-deserved Dundie Award on The Office.
NBC

Your years of watching (and re-watching) The Office, which just celebrated its 15th anniversary, have all led up to this moment. Welcome to Mifflin Madness—Mental Floss's cutthroat competition to determine The Office's greatest character. Is Michael Scott the boss you most love to hate? Or did Kevin Malone suck you in with his giant pot of chili?

You have 24 hours to cast your vote for each round on Twitter before the bracket is updated and half of the chosen characters are eliminated.

The full bracket is below, followed by the round one and round two winners. You can cast your round three vote(s) here. Be sure to check back on Monday at 4 p.m. ET to see if your favorite Dunder Mifflin employee has advanced to the next round. 

Round One


Round Two


Round Three


The Office Planned to Break Up Jim and Pam in the Final Season—Then (Smartly) Thought Better of It

Jenna Fischer and John Krasinski star in The Office.
Jenna Fischer and John Krasinski star in The Office.
NBCUniversal Media, LLC

Jim Halpert and Pam Beesly's relationship in The Office was truly a romance for the ages. Fans were delighted when, in Season 3—after years of flirting—John Krasinski and Jenna Fischer’s characters finally got together. But an alternative plan for the show’s ninth and final season saw the couple going their separate ways.

Season 9 saw one of the most stressful storylines the show had to offer when Jim took a job in Philadelphia and Pam struggled to take care of their children on her own back in Scranton, putting intense strain on their otherwise seemingly perfect relationship. In one unforgettable scene, a particularly tense phone call between the couple ends with Pam in tears. Fischer’s character then turns to someone off camera named Brian for advice.

As Collider reports, Pam and Jim's relationship could have taken a turn for worse in the final season—and the writers had planned it that way. As recounted in Andy Greene's new book, The Office: The Untold Story of the Greatest Sitcom of the 2000s, series creator Greg Daniels sat down with each of the show's stars before starting the final season to discuss where their characters would go. John Krasinski, who played Jim, pitched the idea of putting Jim and Pam’s relationship on thin ice. According to Krasinski:

"My whole pitch to Greg was that we’ve done so much with Jim and Pam, and now, after marriage and kids, there was a bit of a lull there, I think, for them about what they wanted to do … And I said to Greg, ‘It would be really interesting to see how that split will affect two people that you know so well.'"

Several writers weighed in with ideas about how they might handle a split between Jim and Pam from a narrative standpoint—though not everyone was on the same page.

Warren Lieberstein, a writer on the series, remembered when the idea of bringing Brian—the documentary crew's boom operator—into the mix. “[This] was something that came up in Season 5, I think," Lieberstein said. "What if that character had been secretly there the entire time and predated the relationship with Jim and had been a shoulder that she cried on for years?’ It just seemed very intriguing." Apparently, the writers thought breaking the fourth wall would jeopardize the show, so they saved it for the last season.

Writer Owen Ellickson said there was even some talk of Pam and Brian “maybe hooking up a little bit," but the negative response to the storyline led the writers to "pull the ripcord on [Pam and Jim's separation] because it was so painful to fans of the show." Ellickson said that they backtracked so quickly, they even had to re-edit certain episodes that had already been shot to nix the idea of Jim and Pam splitting up. Which is something the show's millions of fans will be forever grateful for.

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