French Language

French slang in the trenches of World War One.

At the start of the Great War, millions of men were gathered together to fight France’s enemies. One of the difficulty for the Army and the officers was that many Frenchmen actually did not speak French properly but spoke their own local dialects. After months spent together in the fields and trenches of World War One, soldiers created their own “ trench slang “ ( “ l’argot des tranchées “ ), mixing words from popular French, Parisian slang, languages of the colonial soldiers and other popular dialects.

Une abeille : a bee was a bullet.

L’antidérapant : the “ non-slip “ is the word for wine.

Une auge : a trough was the nickname of the soldier’s plate.

Le Boche : The origin of the word is not clear but a “ boche “ was the vulgar nickname given to a German.

La Bochie : Literally the Boche’s country,  la Bochie was the term for Germany.

Une boite de singe : literally “ a monkey’s box “ it designated both an artillery shell and canned food.

Les Bouchers Noirs : “ The Black Butchers “ were the soldiers in the artillery. This expression came from the colour of their uniforms and the devastating effect they had.

Un Boyau : “ A gut “ was the entrance of a trench.

Boyauter :  From “ boyau“ , it meant to walk/patrol in the trenches.

Un cabot : a corporal but also a dog.

Un Cerf : a deer was an accomplished cavalryman and a horse.

Chien de quartier : Literally the “ Quarter dog “ was the adjutant.

Cleb : The “ cleb “ meant the dog. It was  brought by the Algerian soldiers.

Un Crapouillot : literally a “ little toad “, it designated a small mortar.

( Gagner la ) Croix de Bois : Earning the Wooden Cross meant to be killed in action.

La gnôle : nickname for a strong alcohol, still used today by the elders.

Le groin de cochon : the pig’s snout was a gas mask.

Un moineau : a sparrow was a shell, because of the sound it made when flying over the soldiers.

Moulin à café : The coffee grinder was a machine-gun.

Un Nouveau-Né : A Newborn referred to a bomb shell that did not explode.

P.C.D.F : “ Pauvre Couillons du Front “ or “ Poor Mugs at the Front “ was a nickname the Poilus gave themselves in the trenches.

Le Pinard : Low quality wine, this slang word is still used today.

Le Poilu : Certainly the best known World War One word. “The Hairy“ was the French soldier, more particularly the one who had survived his first fight.

Les Pompes : the “ pumps “ were the soldier’s boots because they often ended “ pumping “ water.

Rosalie : Rosalie was one of the many nicknames for a bayonet.

La Rosalie de Mademoisellee Lebel : “ Miss Lebel’s Rosalie “ was an expression used to designate a bayonet on a rifle. The Lebel rifle was used by the French army and Rosalie was one of the many nicknames for a bayonet.

Le séchoir : “ the clothes line “ is barbed wire, this slang started because the soldiers who were “killed“ would fall and be tangled in the wire, as if they were hung out to dry.

Une taupe : a mole, was the nickname given to the German soldiers digging tunnels.

Des totos : lice and flees.

Un toubib : a “ doc “ was the nickname given to the doctors. The word comes from the arabic “ tebib “. It is still used today.

By Alister

Studying at the University of Besançon, Burgundy Franche-Comté, France