100 years after World War I

November the 11th, last Sunday, was the 100th anniversary of the end of the First World War. To start with the original name was The Great War and only got called the First when we started the Second. And words from that time have lasted throughout the century since.  And some are very apt especially today.

“Chatting” comes from the soldiers’ slang word for lice, when soldiers used to sit together and remove the bugs as a community event whilst gossiping. Chatting — tweeting — yes, both about saying nothing important while dealing with vermin.

“Lousy” literally means crawling with lice. Hence the president calling the London Embassy lousy, the Iran deal lousy and, of course, derogatory name-calling for Democrats. Yeah, “sad.”

“When the balloon goes up” meant before an attack when observation balloons were launched signaling the impending attack, although it’s now used for frequent White House PR stunts or tales of an imminent caravan.

“Pipsqueak” was a name for a bullet or a shell that missed, as was “whiz-bang,” both of which now refer to an insignificant failure of a person or something making a loud noise of no consequence. “Blow-hard” comes to mind (from WWII).

“Breaking new ground” meant smashing, sometimes exploding the frozen earth, and digging a new wartime trench or foxhole... and not very complimentary when it comes to destroying constitutional norms.

“Over the top” meant when soldiers left the trenches, going over the walls of the trench, to attack the enemy (and likely could die) and not, as it currently does, about lies and hyperbole in modern politics — although the danger posed by both is perhaps equal since exaggeration and misinformation, truth not being truth, can be deadly.

“Sniping” came from hunting small birds in India and has morphed into today’s meaning of taking cheap shots at perceived enemies with no constructive purpose whatsoever. Or any insult delivered by another bird twittering away.

So as we remember the end of The Great War, and the 116,708 U.S. soldiers who perished “over there,” let’s try and remember the lessons they prepared for us and fight for the same values they did: Truth, Justice and the American Way.


Peter Riva, a former resident of Amenia Union, now lives in New Mexico.