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Period Army slang

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Period Army slang

Post  Gabriel Cotton on Mon Dec 31, 2012 8:54 am

From The Armies of Wellington by Philip J Haythornthwaite, Brockhampton Press, London, 1994

Abram: to sham Abram was to pretend illness
Accoutrements: a soldier's equipment, sometimes his clothing
Act of Parliament: small beer, from the five pints of which a landlord was formerly obliged by law to provide each soldier billeted upon him
Articles: breeches (in the plural; 'article' singular was a term for a wench)
Bacon bolters: grenadiers (colloquialism)
Bad bargain: a useless soldier ('one of His Majesty's bad bargains')
Baggage: women and children (colloquialism)
Bang up: very fine
Barker/barking iron: a pistol
Bat: baggage, provisions, possessions (hence 'batman')
Belch: beer
Belemite: malingerer (from Belem, just outside Lisbon where the main Army hospital was for much of the war)
Bishop: mix of wine and water
Bitch booby: country wench
Bivouac: although it could be employed in the modern sense of a camp in the open field, in the strictest sense the term described a camp at night in which the troops remained under arms, with only about one third resting at a time
Black book: regimental punishment book
Black hole: guardhouse/prison
Blackjack: half pint tin mug
Bleeders: spurs
Bloody back: soldier, either from the red coat or from the Army punishment of flogging
Blue plum: bullet, hence 'to take a blue plum' was to be wounded
Bog-land: Ireland; a bogger or bog-trotter was an Irishman; 'bog' also used as slang for a latrine
Boots: youngest officer in the mess (colloquialism)
brim: deserted woman
Brown Bess: nickname for the British musket, probably originally from the colour and 'buss', Anglicisation of the German Busche, gun; or a term of endearment. 'To hug Brown Bess': to enlist as a soldier. (In the thieves' cant, a 'bess' was a small crowbar used for forcing doors.)
Brown George: army loaf, also an unpowdered wig. (A 'yellow George' was a guinea)
Buffs: soldiers' belts, an abbreviation of 'buff-leather'; also a nickname for the 3rd Foot (East Kent Regiment).
Bulldog: pistol
Bumbo: a mixture of brandy, water and sugar
Bumper: full glass
Butcher's bill: casualty list
Cagg: military slang for abstention from alcohol
Calfskin: drum (orig 'calfskin fiddle')
Candlestick: slang for a bayonet ('camp candlestick', from the ability to use the socket of a bayonet to hold a candle, the blade having first been driven into the ground)
Caterpillar: soldier, said to derive from the Jacobean rebellion when a soldier was complimented as the 'pillar of the nation'. When the danger was passed and the soldier was slighted, he remarked that the civilian had previously called him the nation's pillar; the civilian replied that he must have meant 'caterpillar'!
Chelsea: 'to get Chelsea' = to obtain a military pension
Chocolate: 'to give chocolate without sugar' was military slang for the act of reproving (the exact modern military equivalent is 'an interview without coffee'! Very Happy )
Chosen man: Lance corporal (archaic, but used in the Rifle battalions)
Clash pans: cymbals
Cold burning: a minor punishment performed by soldiers on their fellows: pouring cold water over them
Coloured clothes: non uniform civilian dress
Cool lady: female camp-follower or sutleress, esp a woman who sells alcohol
Cracker: ammo
Crapaud: British nickname for French soldiers
Croaker: a moaner, complainer, pessimist or a person of gloomy disposition who was always predicting doom; from the croaking of a raven, supposedly an omen of ill-luck
Crocus: nickname for an army or navy surgeon
Crowdy: (or crowdie): term of Scots derivation to describe a mixture of oatmeal and water, or curdled milk made into a substance resembling cream cheese
Crusty: surly or bad-tempered
Cumberland Gentlemen: nickname of the 34th Foot, from the select nature of their officers
Curse of God: slang for a cockade, derivation unknown
Daddy-mammy: a drum-roll, presumably from this being the first thing taught to a drummer
Dead man: empty bottle (also 'dead marine' or 'marine officer') Among bakers the term described a loaf falsely charged to a customer's account
Death or Glory men: Nickname for the Brunswick Oels Corps (from the skull and crossed bones badge)
Dirty Half Hundred: nickname of the 50th Foot (West Kent Regiment), from their number and black facings, which leaked dye when the men wiped their faces on their cuffs
Drab: a thick, strong grey cloth or an indeterminate dull grey-brown colour, perhaps originating from the colour of undyed wool. In low slang, a drab was a sluttish woman or cheap prostitute
Drum: 'to pay the bill with a drum' was a slang expression for marching off, leaving debts unpaid (presumably as soldiers were wont to do upon hearing the drums beating.) A 'drummer' was a horse that threw out its forelegs, like the flourish of drumsticks
Duck: a coarse fabric, sometimes a term applied to light sailcloth or sacking, used for clothing (from Dutch doek, linen cloth)
Enthusiastics: nickname for the 4th Division of Wellington's Peninsular army, adopted after Wellington had referred to their enthusiastic conduct in the Pyrenees; prior to this they had been known as 'the Supporting Division'
Facings (1)Coloured distinctions on a man's uniform - collar, cuffs, shoulder-straps etc; (2)drill movements (turning on the spot to face a different direction)
Faggot: man hired to appear for soldier at roster call
Firelock: Flintlock musket (used in practically every period work pertaining to the army or mentioning small-arms!)
Fighting Division: Nickname for the 3rd Division of Wellington's Peninsular Army
Flash in the pan: a misfire, when the powder in the pan ignited but did not penetrate the touch-hole to reach the charge in the barrel. In low slang, a 'flash-panney' was a brothel.
Floating hell: Slang for a prison hulk
Foot: Infantry. 'Foot-wobbler:' an cavalry insulting term for infantry
Frizzen: The part of the musket lock which the flint strikes to create sparks to fire off the powder
Gentlemen's Sons: Nickname for the 1st Division of the British Peninsular Army
Goddam: French nickname for British troops, from the British use of this expression; dates from the Hundred Years' War
Grand rounds: main inspection of sentries, usually undertaken once a night
Grasshoppers: French nicknames ('les sauterelles') for British Riflemen, from their green uniforms and quick movements
Halberd: common term for the sergeants' spontoon, even though a true halbrd had an axe-head. 'To go to the halberds' = to be flogged. 'To get a halberd' = to be promoted to sergeant. 'To have a halberd in the face' = to be an officer promoted from the ranks.
Half-mounting: a soldier's smallclothes, consisting of one neck-cloth (leather stock from 1795), shirt, one pair of shoes and stockings
Halkett's Green Germans: 7th Division nickname for the Light Battalions of the King's German Legion in the Peninsular War
Haversack: fabric bag used for carrying provisions (from 'haver', oats)
Hubble-de-shuff: archaic military term for confusedly or in an irregular manner: 'firing hubbledeshuff' = firing at will.
Huzzah!: a hurrah, stated to have been the national shout of the English, termed a cheer in the Navy
Inexpressibles: breeches
Jaggers: The 5/60th; Anglicisation of German 'Jaegers', hunters.
Johnny Newcome: new recruit
Jolly: a Marine (derivation unknown)
Jonathan: nickname for Americans (sometimes 'Brother Jonathan'); originated in the American War of Independence, perhaps from Jonathan Trumbull
Kickshaws: French (or more generally foreign) food, Anglicisation of quelque chose
Kidnapper: Slang term for a crimp who inveigled recruits into the army
Knapsack: Infantry pack
Knock-me-down: strong ale
Leg bail: leave without paying debts
Light bobs: colloquialism for light infantry. Light bobbing = light infantry service. 'Light troops' was slang for lice
Live lumber: Nautical term for troops being transported by sea
Lobster: A soldier, probably from the red coats, though applied during the English Civil War to cuirassiers (heavy cavalry), from their hard 'shell' (armour). 'To boil a lobster' was a colloquialism for a clergyman or religious person becoming a soldier, their ecclesiastical black clothing being exchanged for red
Marching Division: nickname for the 6th Division of the British Peninsular Army
Moonraker: nickname for a Wiltshire man, from the story of the yokels who tried to pull the moon's reflection out of a lake using a rake
Nightingale: soldier who cried out during a flogging
Observing Division: Nickname for the 2nd Division of the Peninsular Army
Old trousers: British nickname for the French drum-call pas-de-charge which heralded every attack. 'Here comes Old Trousers' = the French are attacking.
Overslagh: verb of Dutch origin, describing the equal sharing out between a unit's officers of the duties of those on detached service
Owls: nickname of the Brunswick Oels Corps in the Peninsular War (from 'Oels')
Parleyvous: anything French
Patlander: Irishman
Pear making: colloquialism for the practice of enlisting, taking the bounty and then immediately deserting
Picker: (or pick) a wire needle used for clearing the touch-hole of a musket. Often fastened to a man's coat with a brass chain, on the other end of which was a stiff brush used for clearing powder residue from the pan
Piece: cannon (orig. 'field piece')
Pioneers: nickname for the 5th Division of the Peninsular Army
Poker: slang for a sword
Pompadours: Nickname for the 56th Foot (West Essex Regiment), from their purple facings
Pong: slang for bread, an Anglicised pronunciation of the Portuguese paõ, bread; 'yellow pong' was bread made from Indian corn (maize)
Pontius Pilate or Pontius Pilate's Own: nickname for the 1st Foot (Royal Scots - not the First Foot Guards! - from their claim to great antiquity as being 'Pontius Pilate's guards. In low slang, a Pontius Pilate was a pawnbroker
Prog: colloquialism for food or provisions. 'To prog' was to forage
Punk: female camp follower. In civilian use, the word meant a prostitute
Rag carrier: slang for an infantry ensign ('the rag' being the Colour)
Rag fair: slang for an inspection of a unit's necessaries and smallclothes
Rammer: the ramrod of a musket or cannon; in slang, a rammer was a person's arm
Red rag: red uniform coat
Redshanker: Highlander (from the bare legs below the kilt)
Regimentals: items of uniform clothing
Rejoicing fire: feu de joi. When a unit did not fire by volley but by 'rolling fire' from one end of the line to the other; upon the command 'begin', the files at the right pulled their triggers; the file next to them pulled theirs when the saw the flash in the pan of of the first file and so on down the line
Resurrection Men: Nickanme of the 3rd Foot after Albuera (1811), when so many men returned to duty after being wounded. (In civilian slang, 'resurrection men' were those who stole newly buried bodies and sold them for medical research and training)
Retreat: Evening drum call to signal the end of the day's activity and to order that sentries should challenge all comers until the beating of reveille the next day
Reversed colours: system by which drummers and musicians (except those in regiments styled 'Royal') wore uniforms of the regimental facing colour
Roller: neck cloth
Round hat: squat top hat with wide or upturned brim
Ruffler: beggar who pretended to be an old or crippled soldier or sailor
Rumbo: rum, sugar, water
Runnig ball: a musket charge without wadding to hold the ball in place
Saddle sick: dislike of riding horses or to be galled by riding
Saloop: tea, milk and sugar
Sanky or sank: a tailor employed in making uniforms
Scotch Greys: Slang for lice (NB 'Scotch' is an incorrect term for 'Scots', though common in the period)
Sham fight: a field day exercise
Sheepskin fiddler: slang for a drummer
Shifting ballast: derogatory naval term for transporting soldiers
Skilly: thin watery soup
Skulker: a soldier who feigned illness to escape duty
Slashers: nickname of the 28th Foot (the Gloucestershire Regiment) supposedly invented by Colonel John Brown to compensate for the lack of a 'Royal' title
Smabble: kill in battle, or to loot the body of one so killed (also, 'snabble')
Smart money: compensation money for limbs lost in battle; also, the fine paid by one wishing to leave the Army after enlisting
Snob: nickname for a shoemaker
Spit: sword
Spread-eagle: soldier tied to a triangle to be flogged
Steel: a frizzen
Stick: pistol
Stingo. strong beer or powerful liquor
Stirabout: porridge, stew or stock-pot
Surprisers: nickname for the 2nd Division of Wellington's army after their actions at Arroyo dos Molinos
Sutler: Seller of food and drink and sundries to soldiers, usually in camp
Swad/swaddy: nickname for a soldier (the modern word is 'squaddy')
Sweeps: nickname of the 95th Rifles, from their dark green uniforms and black facings
Swipes: small beer; hence 'swipey' = drunk
Swizzle: alcohol
Tail: sword (from its appearance in silhouette, protruding behind the wearer)l in low slang 'tail' was a term for a prostitute
Tattoo: evening drum call to signal troops to return to quarters, and for sutlers to close their booths; orig 'tap-to' i.e. turn off the taps of the beer barrels
Tilter: sword
Time beater: drummer
Toad eater: slang for a flattered or one who sought to ingratiate himself with his superiors, hence 'toady'
Toasting iron: sword
Tommy: slang for bread; 'brown Tommy' was that issued to the army while 'white Tommy' or 'soft Tommy' was naval slang for bread as opposed to biscuit (which was officially termed bread!)
Tow-row: nickname for a grenadier, probably from the chorus of The British Grenadiers
Triangle: construction of three spontoons in a tripod to which a man was tied for flogging, hence 'to go to the triangle' or 'to be brought to the triangle' = to be flogged
Trull: female camp follower
Unfortunate Gentlemen: nickname for the Household Cavalry, arising from a mid-18th century story of an officer, seeing some of them having difficulty bundling forage, asked who they were; he received the answer, 'unfortunate gentlemen'.
Unlaced: an 'unlaced' regiment was one in which the officers' uniforms had no metallic lace loops
Upright: a quart of beer to which a quartern (a quarter-pint) of gin had been added. (This should not be confused with 'threepenny upright', slang for a low prostitute who dispensed her favour for that sum, standing against a wall).
Utensils: term describing the things with which a soldier had to be supplied when billetted upon an innkeeper: a bed with sheets, a pot, drinking-glass, dish, candle and a place at the fireside.
Walking cornet: cavalry for ensign
Watch coat: Great coat, named from these garments originally being issued only to sentries going on watch
Wee Gees: nickname for the Corps of Drivers, Royal Artillery
Worm: corkscrew-like device used to extract an unfired charge from the barrel of a musket or cannon
Young Eyes: nickname for light dragoons applied by the Foot Guards, presumably in respect of the comparative youth of their regiments, and perhaps having some connection with the Guards' nickname of 'Old Eyes'

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And he sang as he marched through the crowded streets of Rochester,
"Who'll be a soldier for Wellington and me?" ~ The Rochester Recruit, trad.
Gabriel Cotton

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