How Well Do You Know WWI Lingo?

Robin Tyler

Image: Italian Army Photographers 1915-1918 via Wiki Commons

About This Quiz

Death, destruction, explosions, corpses, limbs and eventually victory for the Allies.

But to achieve that, many men lost their lives in the trenches and in No Man's Land on the Western Front. This was a horrid war where machine guns ripped into flesh, artillery shells tore men apart and poisonous gas blind and asphyxiated those who could not get their gas masks on quick enough. It lasted for four long years were advancing a few meters was often seen as a major victory. Well, by those in command behind the lines that is. 

The First World War gave us many slang terms that are still in use today. It even changed the meaning of words that up to that point had referred to something completely different.

In the death and decay, the blood, muck, rats and constant fear, men devised words that best described a range of feelings, things, and people.

But how many of these do you think you would recognize today.  Some are simple, other a little bit more complicated. Many you would have heard before, and some will be totally new to you. Let's see how you do in our slang from the First World War quiz. 

Good luck!


A soldier in a wooden overcoat was ______

A wooden overcoat was World War 1 lingo for a casket. So if you were in one, you were dead. No one wanted to wear a wooden overcoat.

When 'cooties' was during the rounds between groups of soldiers, what did they have?

Diseases and other afflictions were rife in the dirty trenches, and head lice was a common problem. The name comes from a waterfowl species found in France called the Coot from where these lice came.

If a soldier was said to be a 'basket case,' what did it mean?

Although basket case is used differently today, during World War I it meant a soldier so badly injured that he had to be carried from the battlefield in a basket after losing all his limbs. Wow!

Soldiers were on the lookout at all time for 'booby traps.' What were they?

Enemy soldiers often rigged booby-traps to try and catch the enemy unaware. They were usually explosive devices, including hand grenades hidden in chests, under an old boot or something similar that when moved, caused the device to explode, maiming or killing the person closest to it.

A captain telling a soldier to head for the 'crump hole' meant that he should _______

After an artillery shell exploded, it would leave a hole in the ground. This was called a crump hole and could be used as cover from enemy fire.

A 'daisy cutter' is a?

Early artillery shells would explode above the ground. Later, shells had timed fuses which would allow them to land in the ground and explode a few minutes later. This caused even more damage, and these were called 'daisy cutters.'

'Take a dekko' would mean what during World War I?

To 'take a dekko' meant to have a look at something. For instance 'Take a dekko at that tree, is there an enemy soldier behind it?'. It was first adopted by troops serving in India in the late 1800s but became a much-used term during World War I.

Any ideas as to what French soldiers called American service men when they joined the war in 1917?

America only entered the First World War in 1917. Troops from the United States were referred to as Sammy's by the French.

If a soldier was a 'sapper', what was his specialized profession?

A sapper was an engineer. This division was responsible for various important jobs, for example building a temporary bridge to cross a river.

When a British pilot shot down 'sausages' what had he destroyed?

Observation balloons were able to give an indication of enemy troop movements and were often targeted. The British called them 'sausages' or 'blimps.'

Soldiers struck by iron rations were hit by?

Although 'iron rations' originally did refer to rations in the 1800's by it has become the chosen name for the shrapnel from exploding artillery shells.

'Kiwi' soldiers were from what country?

'Kiwi' soldiers came from New Zealand. They were so named after a flightless bird only found in that country. New Zealand took part in the war as they formed part of the Commonwealth led by Britain. Over 100,000 soldiers served.

'Pogey-bait' was a slang term used by U.S. and Canadian troops. What did it refer to?

"Pogey-bait' was indeed candy, although it is not known why it was named so. It might come from the word pogue, which in turn was slang for a weak soldier or a non-combatant.

Soldiers with souvenirs showed off their _____

Souvenirs or non-lethal wounds or scarring were reminders of battle.

When something was 'spike bozzled' it was ______?

If anything was 'spike bozzled' it was totally destroyed. This was often used to describe aircraft that had been shot down.

Can you tell use what the word 'strafe' meant?

Strafe is a German word meaning punish. In World War I, British servicemen started using it to describe attacking an enemy position with relentless fire or pilots would strafe enemy ground forces.

A soldier that was 'zig zagging' was?

Although not a word made up in the trenches at the time, zig zag described a soldier that was drunk. It comes from the way a drunk person would walk.

Eating a 'skilly' meant you were eating what exactly?

Finding a decent meal was often a problem on the front. A 'skilly' or a watery stew certainly wasn't one. Sounds horrible, right?

'Ack dum' meant what if said by a British soldier?

Taking from 'achtung', the German word for attention, 'ack dum' means look out.

A 'snob' did what to a soldiers boots?

Boots were very important in trench warfare. If your feet got wet, trench foot could easily set in. People who could repairs boots, often fellow soldiers who worked as cobblers before the war, were called 'snobs.'

What did Australian soldiers describe as 'Anzac soup'?

Australians were forthright, like they are today. A corpse mangled by an exploding shell and left in the crater was called 'Anzac soup'.

A food type referred to as 'barkers' were?

Sausages served to soldiers were called 'barkers' as many believe they were made out of dog meat. Eeeew!

In terms of American forces, what was a 'squaddy'?

American soldiers would call fellow soldiers 'squaddy,' which obviously comes from the term squad, or group of soldiers.

If a soldier had 'copped it', he was ______?

Sadly, many soldiers 'copped it' on the Western Front. This term was used by British soldiers.

Vehicles referred to as 'kites' were?

Pilots, particularly the British, called their aircraft 'kites'. It make sense, I suppose as they both are found in the sky.

'Sallies' were often found behind the lines, providing support. What were they?

Relief operations during the war were crucial, not only helping soldiers but civilians devastated by the conflict. This was often run by the Salvation Army.

By what name did British troops call German soldiers?

German soldiers were called all many of things, many that we can't use here. Fritz was a general term however, used by troops and the public back in England.

When German troops were said to 'scarper,' what were they doing?

'Scarper' had a number of means before the war, but on the Western Front, it generally meant running away.

Which country was known as 'Blighty' in slang terms?

'Blighty' actually comes from an Urdu word which means foreigner. It was first used to describe British troops in India and eventually went on to mean Britain itself.

Attacking a 'pillbox' meant to attack ______?

'Pillboxes' were heavily armed fortifications, normally containing troops with mounted machine guns. To advance they would have to be captured or destroyed.

Who were 'brass hats' that common soldiers referred to?

'Brass hats' were ranking officers and a name that regular soldiers gave them. This was thanks to a gold braid stitching in their caps.

If a soldier wanted a 'gasper' what was he looking for?

Slang terms for cigarettes included gaspers and fags.

What does a 'gong' refer to?

A medal was referred to as 'gong' but in a very facetious way. So a solider might have received a 'gong' but didn't deserve it according to fellow troops.

A vehicle called a 'hot cross bun' was what?

It's logical why an ambulance would have received this name... it's the big red cross on the side.

A 'potato masher' was which German weapon?

German hand grenades were called potato mashers as they look a little like the kitchen utensil.

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