A scoop

We are rather late-comers to the quest to find the earliest documentation of war-words; ‘trench-coat’ looked promising, as did ‘home front’, but nothing came of it. However, we hereby wave the flag of Languages and the First World War over the earliest yet documentation of that rather unwarlike word – “kinky”. Improbable but there it is; currently the earliest documentation in the OED stands at 1959, but we can push it back by 43 years.


Magnus Hirschfeld begins the introduction to The Sexual History of the World War (1946) with a proposal that while there was no change in the kind of sexual activity in a society on the outbreak of war, there might be perceived a huge change in the degree. A number of salacious magazines in print in Britain before the war used the opportunity of the conflict to publish cartoons of highly exaggerated figures of women in uniform, and also to continue what was clearly an editorially created correspondence page dealing with stories of cross-dressing, spanking, high heels and tight corsets, now opportunistically extending it into the military experience. This included in 1916 a reference to British papers in the early days of the war reporting that ‘German soldiers had been taken captive wearing ladies’ lingerie under their clothes, which they had looted from French wardrobes’ (Illustrated Bits 12 August 1916), and a few weeks later a writer under the name ‘Sapper’ who claimed to be a soldier and ‘simply love[s] to wear tightly-laced corsets and high heels’. The correspondence page continued through the conflict, and by 1918 had grown to two pages, now embracing tales of conscientious objectors being subjected to punitive cross-dressing, and referencing the drag artists who performed in concert parties. No doubt it was still mainly fictional, but equally doubtless catered for real readers with an actual desire to read such material.


But to the word. Illustrated Bits on 30 September 1916 carried a response to Sapper’s letter, headed ‘A bit kinky’, and signed ‘Tight Lacing Mad’; the writer, also claiming to be in the forces, wished he had been born a girl, and stated ‘I suppose this is a “kink” of mine’. He claimed to have enjoyed wearing 18-inch corsets, was ‘never happy unless wearing them’, and was ‘quite miserable without my corsets in the army’. The same paper on 2 December 1916 carried a response to this, headlined ‘Another kinky one’, and signed ‘A lover of fine things’, the writer stating that he wished he ‘had been born a girl instead of a boy’.


By 1918 the magazine, probably just a step ahead of the censor, had changed its name to Bits of Fun; on 7 September that year there was a long letter from a soldier who, having spent three years in France, and having taken part in many concerts, though never as a girl, acquired from a friend the ‘kink’ of dressing in women’s clothes. A week later a further letter under the heading ‘Another Strange “Kink”’ began: ‘Dear Sirf [sic], – I notice several of your readers have written confessing their various kinks, so I thought perhaps my special kink might be interesting.’ The kink in question was wearing ‘female underclothing’ and ‘having a baby’s “dummy” teat in my mouth’.


So, wartime slang, in a civilian paper, with texts claiming to have been written by soldiers, using ‘kink’ and ‘kinky’ in a sexual context; of questionable veracity of course, but openly acknowledging a readership for this kind of material. The whole question of the sexualizing of the war is currently under research, with intended publication next year.

6 thoughts on “A scoop”

    1. Rather tardy of us, but here is Eric Partridge’s take on ‘kinky’, from “Origins” (1958/1982): Kink, n (hence v), whence the adj Kinky; akimbo. ‘Kink’ is adopted from MD ‘kinc-‘ (in ‘kinchorn’), D ‘kink’, a twist (or a coil) in a rope: cf MLG ‘kinke’, a twist, and ON ‘kengr’, a bend. Also prob ult Scan in origin is ‘akimbo’, with one or, usu, both hands on hip with elbow turned outward: ME ‘in kenebowe’: cf Ice ‘kengboginn’, crooked. (EW.)
      The reference ‘EW’ is to Ernest Weekley’s ‘Concise Etymological Dictionary’ of 1952; I don’t have a copy of this to hand, but have Weekley’s ‘An Etymological Dictionary of Modern English’ (1922), which supports the nautical origin, from Dutch & Low German, with links to Old Norse and Norwegian dialect; Weekley’s citation, with the comment that it is ‘considerably earlier than ‘N.E.D.’ record’, is from ‘Purchas his Pilgrimes’ (1625): “They bid one good morrow and kincke fingers together”. It’s a nice term for locking a finger together with somebody else, and deserves reviving.

      Liked by 1 person

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