British Army linguistic etiquette, 1916

Wilson Gray hwgray at GMAIL.COM
Thu Sep 13 02:59:49 UTC 2007

Don' be talkin' about my mama! I ki' yo' ass!


On 9/12/07, Jonathan Lighter <wuxxmupp2000 at> wrote:
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> Sender:       American Dialect Society <ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU>
> Poster:       Jonathan Lighter <wuxxmupp2000 at YAHOO.COM>
> Subject:      British Army linguistic etiquette, 1916
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> From Norman Gladden, _The Somme 1916: A Personal Account_ (London: William Kimber, 1974), p. 86 [based on Private Gladden's diary]:
>   "Swearing and talk that was often dirty, sometimes blasphemous, were a common habit in the army and most of us wasted much breath on unnecessary expletives. That morning [Sept. 21, 1916]...two members of the draft came to blows after one had called the other a 'bastard.' It was an army convention that this word was taboo on the grounds that it insulted not only the recipient but his mother. Prevailing public opinion decreed that such a lapse could be repaired only by apology or a fight. Even an NCO or an officer could be called to account for its use. This particular fight...was eventually stopped by the bystanders."
>   Gladden doesn't say so, but "son of a bitch" presumably met with similar disapproval; the yet more lurid mother-related epithet was apparently unknown in Britain at the time.
>   JL
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