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Interesting Etymologies 30: World War Two

"Hello again Word Lovers!" Today we move on to the second World War and the words coined in that conflict between the Allies and the Axis Powers. Our first words are these, Allies and Axis, why where they called that?

Ally - has a satisfying etymology. It comes from the French, alligare = to bind. Ligare in modern Spanish is to unite. The PIE root is leig - to tie, to bind.

Axis - coming from a speech by Mussolini where he spoke about the Rome, Berlin, Tokyo axis.

Lots of German came into English during WWII:

Blitzkrieg - German for Lightening War. Blitz emerging from Bhleg meaning a bright light and Krieg comes from Old German Kriec/g meaning an argument, opposition or combat. Blitzkreig is actually coined from the First World War. The word and tactic emerged originally from Prussian military schools in the 19th century as a style of "lightening fast" military strategy. In the dying embers of the Great War the British successfully develop lightening war techniques to make significant inroads on German positions. German military doctrine never actually referred to the concept of "Blitzkrieg" with exception of propaganda. (Learn more about the horror of World War I with our documentary on the Somme Centenary here or discover more about the words that emerge from The Great War in the previous episode IE29 WWI)

Dog fight - A fight between two aeroplanes (Ed: excellent use of a word that was common when we were younger but has been usurped by airplane) and the loser would go into a Nosedive or a Tailspin. (Ed: Disputed Etymology here. The first referenced use of dogfight comes from a description of the death of Baron von Richthofen in The Graphic in May 1918; 'The Baron joined the mêlée, which, scattering into groups, developed into what our men call a dog fight'. Clearly Dogfight comes from The Great War and should be included in IE29 WWI)

Ersatz - With limited access to materials and products many "Ersatz" products emerged, substitutes for other products. This comes from the German word ersetzen - to replace. This is related to the English word set, setzen is German for set. This all relates back to the PIE root sed which means to sit.

Kitsch - comes into popular use as well, meaning products of inferior value or quality from German again, verkitschen etwas - to make something quickly.

Gestapo - The direct German for Secret Police

Nazi - Originally a "pet name" for Ignaz, a country bumbkin in Bavaria, so the word was a pejorative and already existed. Nazi's probably did not refer to themselves with this word.

(Country Bumbkin is explored in our Easter Special episode here).

Fascist/Fascism - Comes from Italy. Fasces was the bundle of sticks seen in the emblem around an axe. This imagery dates back to the Roman era. Fascio is bundle in Italian. The bundle came to refer to a group of people rather than sticks. It was Mussolini that birthed the term in a speech on March 23 1919.

Black Shirts & Brown Shirts are very literal terms. The violent enforcers of the emerging NAZI party were the S.A (Sturmabteilung : Storm detachment) and they wore uniform colours of brown The phrase has come to mean a violent or thuggish fascist, often with pejorative intention as the S.A were liqidated by Hitler after they had served their purpose. So a Brown shirt is often used to imply a low level thug of low intelligence who is being used by those above him. Black shirt has come to mean a member of a fascist organisation, although the Antifa brigades are often referred to as "the black block" as they wear all black.

Blackout - The term can be used in many different ways, but World War II gave us the use as an act of extinguishing light at night to reduce the opportunity for bombers to target cities.

Radar - Originally an acronym RAdio Detecting And Ranging.

Letters to substitute for words was a common practise in the period. U-Boat (German Unterseeboot - Undersea Boat) for submarines (Ed: Once again first used in WWI by the way), VE Day (Victory in Europe Day and ANZAC (Australian & New Zealand Army Corps) (Ed: First used in WWI again!)

Refugee - First came into use during the First World War to mean a person fleeing. Originally meant an "Asylum Seeker". Refuge is a safe place or a hiding place in Old French and refugium in Latin is taking refuge.

Holocaust - In Latin holocaustum taken directly from the Greek hólos meaning whole and kaustós meaning burnt (Seen in English with Caustic). Effectively making a word that means Destruction by Fire. Not to be confused with Cataclysm which is destruction by water (Greek kataklusmos "deluge", Kata down kluzien to wash)

Explore the full Interesting Etymologies series archive here

As well as being the host of our Interesting Etymologies series, Charly Taylor is a stand up comedian and author. His latest offering is available now:

SkipDeLirio's Worst Ever Gig : A novel by Charly Taylor

Caesar’s army has returned from the long campaign in Gaul and the enemy has been all but defeated. Some of Pompey’s army, however, remains in Africa. Together with straggling Roman rebels and the local king Juba, they are gathering forces to prepare one last attack on what is now Caesar’s Rome. But there is one problem – a descendant of Scipio Africanus is fighting on the side of the Africans. And without a Scipio of their own, the superstitious Romans refuse to go to Africa to fight.

So Caesar sends out soldiers to find himself a Scipio. Luckily, there is a man of such name right there in Rome – a local drunkard and tavern entertainer distantly descended from the legendary warrior. Kidnapped solely on account of his ‘heritage’, the lowly clown is forced to lead out the troops in the battle of Thapsus. There, ‘history’ tells us, Scipio ‘disappears from the historical record’.

Until now.

This is the story of how ‘Nobody’ Skip DeLirio, with the cards finally all dealt in his favour, still managed to fuck it up. History will only take you so far. The rest is make-believe.

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