NEXT time you are staring at a plate of bangers and mash try to imagine something much less appetising – Zeppelin bombers overhead.

The German airships were used for bombing campaigns during the First World War and, as a result, the word was regularly used and even became associated with a popular dish.

According to the latest research by staff at Oxford University Press, the phrase ‘Zeppelins in a cloud’ was slang for sausage and mash.

To commemorate the centenary of the start of the First World War, Oxford English Dictionary researchers are revising a set of words thought to have originated during the period.

They are appealing for people to contact them with evidence about the earliest usage of a number of words and phrases from the period.

Kate Wild, senior assistant editor of the Oxford English Dictionary, said: “With the centenary, people are particularly interested in the history of the First World War and the language of the period.

“The war clearly had quite an impact on the vocabulary of the time.

“By studying the vocabulary we can build up a more accurate picture of what was going on in the war.

“The phrase ‘Zeppelins in a cloud’ we first saw in a dictionary of World War One slang, first published in 1925, but we are sure we will be able to find an earlier reference to it.

“People can find information in letters, diaries, newspapers and magazines and a lot of war diaries have now been digitised by the National Archives. Some suggestions have been posted on our appeals page and once the appeal is closed we will check the evidence.”

Close links between French and British troops in the First World War led to a number of expressions being borrowed from the French.

Ms Wild said the word ‘skive’ is thought to have originate during the war, and may have come from the French verb esquiver, meaning to escape or to avoid.

She added that words including ‘Blighty’, meaning Britain, England or home, and ‘cushy’ meaning easy, or comfortable, were commonly used during the war, but had Urdu origins in the 19th century.

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  • Camouflage (1916)
    The development of aerial warfare and accurate long-range artillery in the First World War meant that weapons, vehicles, and troops needed to be concealed from enemy view.


  • Demob (1919)

The term ‘demobilisation’, referring to the release of troops from military service, has been in use since the 19th century, but the abbreviated form demob seems to date from the First World War.

  • Eyetie (1919)

An Italian soldier. A feature of WWI vocabulary, now thought of as offensive, are terms coined for different nationalities.s

  • Jusqu’auboutiste (1917)

A person who advocates carrying on a conflict ‘jusqu’au bout’, or until the bitter end.

  • Trench foot (1915)/trench mouth (1917)

The appalling conditions of the trenches caused various painful medical conditions, including trench foot and trench mouth.

  • Tank (as a verb): (1930)

Military tanks were a major invention of the First World War.

  • Skive (1919)

One military slang word from the First World War which has become a core part of modern colloquial English in the UK is skive, meaning to ‘avoid work’.