chat (military etymythology)

Benjamin Zimmer bgzimmer at BABEL.LING.UPENN.EDU
Fri Oct 10 16:19:46 UTC 2008

Ben Macintyre of the (UK) Times reviews Graeme Donald's _Fighting
Talk_, which purports to demonstrate how "some of the most benign
words have the bloodiest origins":

Based on the examples given by Macintyre, I don't have high hopes for
the book's reliability. Here's the first one:

Mostly, however, soldiers are bored, sitting around for long hours
passing the time: countless words have their origins in military chat,
including the word "chat". A chat was a slang word for louse, widely
used by British soldiers in the First World War. In quiet moments on
the Western Front, the men would sit around picking lice out of their
uniforms and talking, an activity that became known as "crumbing up"
or "chatting".

Given that the verb "chat" goes back to the 15th century (and is a
pretty straightforward shortening of "chatter"), the WWI nitpicking
theory doesn't hold up very well, as Doug Wilson pointed out here in

--Ben Zimmer

The American Dialect Society -

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