A few tidbits

On sait que toutes les armées donnent des noms à leurs tranchées. Certains sont même devenus illustres, à force d’être cités dans les communiqués. Chez les Français, ce sont des noms généraux, de villes, d’officiers glorieusement tombés, de particularités  du terrain, etc; chez les Boches, des noms de provinces, de cantons, d’unités qui ont travaillé là, de poètes germaniques, etc. Chez les Anglais, on a, pour le plaisir de la nouveauté, employé beaucoup de noms d’actrices en vogue. Ils reviennent souvent, cités dans les comptes rendus locaux avec le plus grand sérieux. Et il est amusant de lire des phrases comme celles-ci:


–      L’ennemi a semblé très nerveux en face de Mistinguett.

–      L’artillerie a fait laire ce matin les mortiers qui battaient Cécile Sorel depuis la nuit.

–      Une forte patruoille, vers minuit dix, a essayé d’approcher de Gaby Deslys, mais, devant notre attitude, s’est aussitôt retiree sans résultat.


Et cela varie à l’infini, et c’est souvent très drôle; et comme leurs actrices et leurs danseuses seraient fières, si ells savaient que tel endroit porte leur nom, qui a repoussé, la nuit dernière, tous les assauts! …


La Vie Parisienne, November 1917



We know that all the armies give names to their trenches. Some have even become famous for being quoted in press releases. Among the French these are general names, of cities, of gloriously fallen officers, of peculiarities of the terrain, etc.; among the Boches, the names of provinces, cantons, units that worked there, poets who wrote in German, etc. Among the English, many names of popular actresses have been used for the sake of novelty. They come back often, cited in local accounts with the utmost seriousness. And it is fun to read sentences like these:


–      The enemy seemed very nervous in front of Mistinguett.

–      The artillery cleared the mortars that had been beating Cécile Sorel since night.

–      A strong patrol, around ten past midnight, tried to approach Gaby Deslys, but, faced with our attitude, immediately withdrew without result.


And it varies endlessly, and is often very funny; and how proud their actresses and dancers would be if they knew that such a place bore their name, which rejected all assaults last night! …



Peter Chasseaud has Gaby Trench (p126) and Gaby Cottage (p127), but neither of the others; we await further evidence.



A couple more gleanings:

From two East Anglian nespapers, post-war:

‘The borrowings from Hindustani, Maori, French-Canadian, and Arabic were innumerable’ Diss Express 31 July 1925 and Framlingham Weekly News 12 May 1928. ‘Criq’ for brandy we know, and French recruits in 1918 were called ‘Canadiens’, but we would like to hear more French-Canadian and Maori borrowings.


Lest anyone should think Toot Sweet was ‘new language’ (see the reproduction in Fraser and Gibbons of the Punch cartoon of 1917, proposing ‘Nah then allez toot sweet, and the tooter the sweeter’ as ‘new language’), this:


‘The British traveller admits of but two languages on earth, English and Foreign. “Foreign” is what French he has learned at school and not forgotten, and his surprise when German porters don’t know what he means by ‘Ersker le kesker toot sweet’ has always been one of my delights ‘on voyage’, as he himself would call it’.

“Percival”, a gossip columnist for The Referee, a Sunday magazine, 24 July 1904

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