May 2015 was the 70th anniversary of the end of the World War II in Europe. Unprecedented in terms of spread and scale of destruction, its aftermath added an enormous number of words and expressions to the English vocabulary which defined warfare, emerging politics and economy and technological innovations. A large number of them proved ephemeral but an equally substantial number survived the century.
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War events were spectacular but none as spectacular as the two events which marked its end the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The bomb itself came to signify the atomic or hydrogen bomb as a unique weapon of war because of its sheer destructive power. In the 60s, banthebomb became the slogan of those advocating nuclear disarmament.
Nuke, a nuclear weapon by late 50s, took the verb form as well in the following years, meaning to attack or destroy with nuclear weapons. This was on the similar line as atomize, prevalent at the end of the war.
Ground zero itself was that part of the ground situated immediately under an exploding bomb. For maximum effect, nuclear bombs are detonated before they hit the ground. Today, the expression has extended meaning denoting a spot or site of an event of great magnitude.
Acronyms, a pervasive feature of military jargon, were essentially the children of World War II. NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organisation), SHAEF (Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Forces), SALT (Strategic Arms Limitation Talks), AWACS (Airborne Warning And Control System) are a few prominent ones. It was in the 1960s that they established themselves in a big way outside the military jargon.
Gone for a burton was a Royal Air Force slang applied to pilots killed in action. Later on, it was broadened and trivialised to cover anything missing, destroyed or spoiled. An amusing version of its origin is that it refers to ‘Burton ale’ (beer brewed in BurtononTrent), and that ‘slipping out for a drink’ is a typical British euphemism for being killed. Let me throw in a lagniappe (remember?) or two.
Delhi belly, that uncomfortable feeling in your tummy, has the war link too. An upset stomach such as may be suffered by visitors to India, was coinage of US troops newly introduced to Indian cuisine during the World War II. It is similar to gippy tummy (or gyppy tummy), a British services’ slang used by troops in North Africa. Gippy had been used by British soldiers as a condescending word for an Egyptian.
There are many more takeaways from the war. But about them, next time. Right now, about lagniappe. It is not a war coinage. It comes from the Creole speech of Louisiana. ‘La’ is from the Spanish word for ‘the’ and ‘yapa’, an addition, from Quechua (Peruvian Indian). So lagniappe is something additional tossed in for good measure just like in the baker’s dozen.