Armistice Day

Today is 11 November, Armistice Day, on which we commemorate the end of the First World War. Or, World War I. That’s how we refer to the conflict now, but it’s actually had surprisingly many names.

At the time it was known as The War that will End War, or The War to End All Wars. Even during the war, people were cynical about the optimism of this name, and now it’s only used sardonically. It was also called The Great War, which originally used great in the older sense of large, though the positive connotations of the word meant that that name also didn’t last too long.

Now of course, with historical perspective, World War I and The First World War make sense. Curiously, I’ve noticed that the war is often referred to as la guerre de 14 – 18 (the 14 – 18 war) in Belgium, and to an extent in France too (in addition to la guerre de 39 – 45). There may be no particular logic behind these names, but I wonder if they’re related to the fact that parts of both France and Belgium were occupied during both wars, and both played host to a tremendous amount of bloodshed. Perhaps these colder, purely factual names are an attempt to create some distance from these terrible times in history.

In English at least, we can still see some influence of this war on the language we use today. Blighty, as a nickname for Great Britain, is believed to come from vilayati, the Hindi word for foreign, used by Indian soldiers during the war, and corrupted to Blighty by English soldiers.

Shell shock also originates from the First World War, and referred originally to the PTSD (which hadn’t been coined at the time) suffered by soldiers due to the intensity of bombardments. But perhaps the most gruesome term is basket case. Used informally now to refer to someone so mentally disabled as to be helpless, it originally referred to soldiers who had lost all their limbs and had to be transported by barrow.

Though the war ended 99 years ago, it still exerts an influence on our culture and language, helping to remember the horrendous loss of life and dreadful conditions suffered by all who fought.

15 thoughts on “Armistice Day

  1. In WWII, it was called “battle fatigue.” It wasn’t until Viet Nam vets started coming home in complete disarray that the symptoms were recognized consistently throughout the history of war and other traumas, and were grouped together and called Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.

    I see a lot of PTSD in my practice; in fact, I have become certified as an EMDR provider, which is highly recognized in the military. But there is much trauma that is not war-related: Rape, witnessing murder, being brutalized by someone who is supposed to love you; childhood sexual molestation, adultery, divorce, death, miscarriage—so many life events can bring on PTSD.

    Liked by 1 person

    • At least now we’re beginning to realise and acknowledge the terrible after effects any trauma can have, though sadly there’s still often an expectation that victims should just get on with their lives as though nothing happened.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I had not heard that origin of ‘basket case’ before. I am an occupational therapist and was taught that the phrase originated when returning soldiers wove baskets as therapy in the early days of my profession. I guess both could be true.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I can understand people’s reluctance to wear the British poppy. It does have “Haig Fund” in the centre, and not everyone is or was a fan of General Haig. Likewise the poppy does also relate to those who served in other conflicts, including Ulster/Northern Ireland/The Six Counties/The North of Ireland (take your pick).

    I think it would help if Eire something similar to the poppy to show remembrance for all Irishmen and women who have been killed or injured while fighting for peace, whether that be the two world wars, UN duties or EU duties, that would be commendable. Perhaps a red-green shamrock?

    Certainly, if the Irish ambassador to London can stand by the Whitehall Cenotaph, I see no reason why the Taoiseach cannot, either. Laying a wreath at Eniskillen does not besmirch any legitimate aspirations towards a United Ireland. It shows solidarity with the victims of the atrocity and defiance to the terrorists.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Some have tried to use the white peace lily as a symbol of remembrance, but it’s never taken off. It’s still quite hard to show remembrance for soldiers in Ireland. There’s a lot of will to do so, but there’s always the understandable sticking point of having fought for the British army that many find hard to get past. It was only a few years ago that Irish Army soldiers who fought in either World War, originally branded deserters, were pardoned by the Irish government.


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