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WW1 Unique French Vocabulary

Eliane By Eliane - updated on Nov 11, 2020
WW1  French Vocabulary practice

Discover the unique WW1 French vocabulary & expressions which originated in the trenches. List of vocabulary + English translations and explanations.

1 – WW1  French Vocabulary

I will introduce below some terms used during WW1 in France:

  1. Une abeille : a bee = a bullet.
  2. L’antidérapant : the “ non-slip “ = wine.
  3. Une auge : a trough = the soldier’s plate.
  4. Le boche :  a “ boche “ = the vulgar nickname given to a German.
  5. La bochie :  the “Boche’s country” = term for Germany.
  6. Une boite de singe :  “ a monkey’s box “ = both an artillery shell and canned food.
  7. Les Bouchers Noirs : “ The Black Butchers “ = the soldiers in the artillery. (This expression came from the color of their uniforms and the devastating effect they had.)
  8. Un boyau : “ A gut “ = the entrance of a trench. 
  9. Boyauter :  From “ boyau“ = to walk/patrol in the trenches.
  10. Un cabot : a corporal and also a dog.
  11. Un cerf : a deer = an accomplished cavalryman.
  12. Le chien de quartier :  the “ Quarter dog “ = the adjutant.
  13. Un cleb :  a dog.
  14. Un crapouillot : a “ little toad “= a small mortar.
  15. ( Gagner la ) Croix de Bois : Earning the Wooden Cross = to be killed in action.
  16. La gnôle : nickname for strong alcohol.
  17. Le groin de cochon : the pig’s snout = a gas mask.
  18. Un moineau : a sparrow = a shell.
  19. Un moulin à café : The coffee grinder = a machine-gun.
  20. Un nouveau-né : A newborn = a bombshell that didn’t explode.
  21. Le pinard : Low quality wine.
  22. Le poilu : “The Hairy“ = the French soldier.
  23. Les pompes : the “ pumps “ = the soldier’s boots.
  24. Rosalie : Rosalie = a nickname for a bayonet.
  25. La Rosalie de Mademoiselle Lebel : “ Miss Lebel’s Rosalie “ = a bayonet on a rifle.
  26. Le séchoir : “ the clothes line “ = barbed wire.
  27. Une taupe : a mole = a German soldier digging tunnels.
  28. Des totos : nickname for lice and fleas.
  29. Un toubib : a “ doc “ = a doctor.
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2 – Where Does This WW1 French Terms Come From?

At the beginning of the WWI, soldiers from all over the world encountered a small difficulty: not all French soldiers spoke correct French!

Indeed, many spoke their own “French” dialect (different according to each region: as the Picard for example). But rapidly, they created a dialect specific to the war: « trench slang » (a mix of several dialects and popular French).

If you’d like to study the War and weapon French vocabulary, click the link!

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Can You Understand Today’s Spoken French?

It’s not just slang. The French everybody speaks in France today is NOT the overly enunciated, extremely formal French usually taught to foreigners.

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