Archibald? Certainly not!

The widely accepted story is that ‘Archie’, RFC and general slang for anti-aircraft fire, came from a song first performed by George Robey in 1911. Fraser and Gibbons (Soldier and Sailor Words and Phrases, 1925) and Brophy and Partridge (Soldiers’ Songs and Slang, 1930) give what have become the generally recognised definitions, etymology and developments.

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The first verse and chorus of the song, composed by John L. St John and Alfred Glover in 1909, give an idea of the general thrust:

It’s no use me denying facts
I’m henpecked you can see
‘Twas on our wedding morn my wife
Commenced to peck at me
The wedding breakfast over
I said “We’ll start off today
Upon out honeymoon” Then she yelled,
“What, waste time that way?”

Chorus: “Archibald – certainly not
Get back to work, sir, like a shot
When single you could waste time spooning
But lose work now for honeymooning
Archibald – certainly not.”

But Ernest Weekley’s An Etymological Dictionary of Modern English (1921) offers an alternative:

Archibald, Archie: “It was at once noticed at Brooklands [where much aviation development and testing was carried out prior to 1914] that in the vicinity of, or over, water or damp ground, there were disturbances in the air causing bumps or drops to these early pioneers. Some of these ‘remous’ were found to be permanent, one over the Wey river, and another at the corner of the aerodrome next to the sewage-farm. Youth being fond of giving proper names to inanimate objects, the bump near the sewage-farm was called by them Archibald. As subsequently, when war broke out, the effect of having shell bursting near an aeroplane was to produce a ‘remous’ reminding the Brookland trained pilots of their old friend Archibald, they called being shelled ‘being Archied’ for short. Any flying-man who trained at Brooklands before the war will confirm the above statement” (Col. C H Joubert de la Ferté, I M S ret.).

Col. Charles Henry Joubert de la Ferté, of the Indian Medical Service was 68 when the war broke out, and lived in Weybridge, where Brooklands is located. Brooklands had been in use for at least 7 years by this time – A V Roe and Tommy Sopwith both tested planes there. Whether the term was picked up from the song or whether the song reinforced the chosen word is difficult to determine. But those who remember the film Those Magnificent Men in their Flying Machines (1965) will remember the duel scene, which took place over a sewage farm next to a race-track, where the aerodrome was located.

Notable in Fraser & Gibbons’ text is the term ‘Anti-aircraft Force’, a term not often seen.

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Termes d’Aviation / Glossary of Aviation Terms

Termes d’Aviation / Glossary of Aviation Terms was compiled by Lt Victor Page with Lt Paul Montariol of the French Flying Corps, who had been assigned to the Instruction Dept of the Signal Corps Aviation School at Mineola, Long Island. The book was published in 1917 by the Norman Henley Publishing Co, and was approved for publication by Maj W G Kilner, Commanding Officer of the Signal Corps Aviation School.

Shown are the cover, a rather splendid fold-out of the full length of a fuselage, and a few pages of the glossary – which is spread over some 90 pages, English-French, followed by French-English, generously laid out. Some correspondences do not match conveniently:  ‘Zuhming, Zooming: Monter en chandelle’ on page 24 of the English-French section becomes ‘monter: climb’ and ‘chandelle: zuhm, zuhming, zoom’ on pages 62 and 60 of the French-English section. It perhaps served as an indication to those learning French or English, as well as learning to fly, that languages are not translations of each other, a further shock to some American servicemen who arrived in France without fully realising that they would need to learn a foreign language.20170524_103722

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Some of the French terms are more succinct than their English counterparts: ‘safety belt with suspenders’ is not as clean as ‘ceinture looping’, and ‘se metre en pylone’ is more figurative than ‘landing on nose & remaining tail high’. But ‘tail dive’ is rather faster off the tongue  than ‘glissade sur la queue’, and ‘leading edge’ simpler than ‘bord d’attaque arétier avant’. The matching of the French ‘taxi’ with the English ‘bus’ (both described as ‘comm.’) brings an image of camaraderie; and a few terms have disappeared, sadly – ‘battling planes’ and, more or less, ‘loggy’ (sluggish), which has a 2/8 rating for current usage in the OED. Do planes still have ‘oil grooves’? They did in 1917, the French term being ‘pattes d’araignées’ (spiders’ footsteps).