By Leslie Hunt
If you asked the average ex-Serviceman how much of the wartime slang he still remembers - or uses - the odds are that he'll answer, "I couldn't care less" - and without doubt that particular expression has had a pretty fair run for its money. For a year or so after 1945 we sprinkled out conversations with liberal helpings of "wizard" for anything we approved, "brassed-off" or "browned-off" when depressed, and, of course, we "flapped" and "panicked" with reckless abandon.
The cold war, followed by Korea, followed but the cold war and the spasmodic banditry of Malaya and Kenya, brought a return of wartime warriors and, and with them, a revival of slang. This is again fading, and we are now left with the terms which have stood the test of time - and peace.
Australians, in particular, have made valuable contributions to the repertoire of the sailor and soldier, but more especially to the airman. Let us consider the slanguage in daily use by the flying men of the Services. Starting at the head of bounce or loaf, we find our USAF comrades use brain-bucket for their flying-helmet, whereas the RAF prefer bone-dome. Aeroplane-night to the RAAF indicates a black-tie for dining-in - RAF say Harry Roy kit, but for our American friends mess-kit is knife, fork, and spoon!
A chap doing a staff job in Australia becomes a shiny-seat, and in the RAF he is driving his mahogany bomber! When a Royal Air Force staff officer gets away from his chairborne post to visit units, he is off on a swan (or jolly), but before he takes-off, his deputy must be clued-up, i.e. put in a position to cope. If you agree with others, they are said to be on the same net (for network); if you disagree, you simply say it's not on.
The RAF and RAAF still refer to a line-shooter or show-off type as a smoothie, but USAF personnel use the apt space-cadet. RNZAF aircrew call their small-built members Chunky, whilst the English nickname is Sawn-off. Not to worry has replaced the time-expired cheesed, and charlie is used more often than clot for someone alleged to be as dim as a Toc H lamp! The evergreen pull your finger out for "get cracking" has been adopted by Americans and Australians, whilst the EnZedders have expanded this to unwind you hand, and in Air Ministry it is de-digitate or un-wedge!
Rumour, which in wartime rejoiced under the appropriate elsan-gen, now masquerades as latrinogram in the RAF, buzz in USAF, and hot-poop in Australian. The Americans still wash-out their aircrew failures, which may account for the scrubbed used by the RAF for anything cancelled. Ground-crews (ground-grippers in the RAF Regiment) enjoy names of non-flying birds; in RNZAF you have kiwis, emus in RAAF, and penguins in the RAF. USAF merely call them hanger pilots. An unpopular "admin" type is a peasant in all flying services. Flannellers describes "creepers" or toadies, but the Americans are much more forthright with brown-noses, and the RAAF just say blue-winged shovellers, obviously linked with "bull" RAAF also offer stickybeak for a nosey-parker, whilst USAF prefer private-eye of film and TV fame.
Many and varied are the slang words for drink and drunks, but accepted terms are honked or honkers for too much tonsil-varnish or neck-oil in the RAAF messes, with boozician as a newcomer; whilst RAF say really high or stinko and USAF airmen, draped or plastered. From the ridiculous to the sublime we have God-botherer for padres and Chief Sin-shifter for Chaplains-in-Chief. The ambulance is meat-box in USAF, blood-tub or blood-waggon to the Royal Air Force, with all Medical Officers designated as quack, and fang-farrier or fang for the dentists, although the Australians have an even better term - gum-digger. Helicopters are widely known as egg-beaters or choppers. A photographic reconnaissance aircraft to the USAF boys is focus-cat, but we do not seem, as yet, to have an equivalent. We have, though, Paraffin-Pete for a jet pilot, whist the Americans add go-juice for the fuel and fizz-pots for the rockets on assisted take-off.
Common expressions include bandstand for cruet, camouflage for sauce, tartan delight for porridge, and ablution stationery for you-know-what! The thunder-box also enjoys universal popularity. A compliment is still a strawberry to the English but is a sugar report to the Americans. A rocket for a telling-off is widely used by all, as is strip, but the Australians use Maltese holiday for their idea of a real blitz by an angry superior. Unpopular persons are drongoes to the RAAF and robby or ropey characters to the RAF. Night-fighter crews rejoice in the lovely goggled goblins or dark-horses, whist USAF call the asbestos-clad rescue crews hot papas.
In the cactus in Australia means in the fertiliser in England, and with only the ears showing conveys that you are really in trouble.
Cooks in USAF are hash-burners, and in Australia they are belly-robbers. The RAF has galley-slaves.
For the Australians, to grumble is to beef and to winge, in USAF it's tooting, and in the RAF bleat. Sentry-boxes are now goon-bins, after German P.O.W. camps.
If you go overseas, you undoubtedly need kaydee or tropical uniform; in Australia the khaki summer wear is called drabs, amended, one thinks, from the days when all officers wore gaberdine summer dress. If you buy a car in the RAF, you have wheels; your suéde shoes are brothel creepers.
Passion-post means a letter form your girl-friend or popsie, and if the mail does not include news for you, the general shrugging-off remark is no strain if you are American, or no sweat in the RAF. File 13 is the waste-paper basket, whist in addition to the "In" and "Out" trays you must have the Laugh and Tear Up and Much too Hard trays - essential if you are to become a really successful RAF staff officer.
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LAUGHS FROM THE BOOKS
Noted by Trevor Allen
A magnificent singer but a ponderous bridge player, Horace Stevens, the Australian bass, had Mark Hambourg as partner. He had called a hand badly and then proceeded to play it slowly and badly. Having failed to get his contract, Mark exclaimed in good-humoured exasperation: "My dear Horace, we all know you are the finest Elijah of our time, but why in the name of Heaven do you have to play bridge like him?"
And there is the other story about a famous singer and another of Handel's oratorios. A friend met Heddle Nash, the famous tenor, wandering down the Strand one Good Friday. He asked him how he was feeling, and Heddle said he was a trifle despondent: "Here am I, the greatest Messiah of the day, and out of work on Good Friday."
My Betters (by George W. Bishop).
It was the vogue of dangerously low evening dresses, and once at the theatre at Stratford-on-Avon, Marie Corelli had a mortifying moment as she entered the front row of the dress circle, and one of the galleryites called down to her, "Hi, ma'am, your dumplings is a'boiling over!"
Mr. Thrupp (vicar of Alderminster) had come with four of his rather plain daughters, and he broke it to my father that yet another was coming along. "Why do you keep on having them?" Harvey asked. "Birth lies with the Almighty," said Mr. Thrupp. "He commands birth and death, and I have to take what He sends, but we've got seven already, and if you think of it, I have never had a proper night's rest for something like fifteen years, and it's still going on."
The Elegant Edwardian (by Ursula Bloom).