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Slang From The Civil War Was Even More Absurd Than We Knew

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How many soldiers do you know who love long sentences, hours-long conversations, and unplanned events? They are men of action, with well-planned days, and short commands. That’s what they are trained for and thats what they use in military actions. It has been like that ever since the first army was founded. Simply said, soldiers aren’t known for talkin’ pretty. Plus, they have their own language, short terms, and commands that only they understand. This was especially common during the American Civil War.

Not only that they had their own terms, but they had their own slang, also. During this period, many recruits were volunteers or escaped slaves, which made it a real melting pot for language. With so many different language pearls, things got loose and super fast. These common terms from the Civil War era are comically insulting, painfully literal, and way too much fun for us to leave in the past.

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20. Tennessee Quick Step

Civil War soldiers knew everything about each other. After all, they spend days and days together, surviving day by day. They even created their own codes, for most ordinary things, like going to the toilet.

If one soldier needed to run off the field for an urgent toilet visit, the other soldiers would say he was doing the “Tennessee (or Virginia) Quick-Step.” Do you know that this funny-looking move is today a popular dance? Great things never die.

19. Lucifers

Once upon a time, there was a brand of matches named Lucifers. However, soldiers talked about different kinds of matches. In fact, Lucifers were the first-ever brand of small-sized explosive material intended for starting fires.

Isaac Holden, M.P., developed Lucifers in the 1800s, and soldiers just linked it with famous matches, or Isac did. Still, Isaac did an amazing job. Caring around the explosive size of a matchbox had to be convenient.

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18. Sawbones

Doctors are so important part of every society, especially when the times are hard. Doctors, in the Civil War, were mostly surgeons, who were named ‘Sawbones.’ Can you guess why they had this unusual nickname? Oh, take a guess.

At the time, doctors were responsible for amputating thousands of injured soldiers. In the time of war that was done with no drugs or with some, earning them this horrible nickname.

17. Balderdash

Today we all know that balderdash doesn’t mean a thing. It’s like some gibberish word. However, in the days of the Civil War, it had very serious meaning.

Balderdash was used by soldiers who mixed putrid cocktails out of random, available liquors, referred to as “balderdash.” Does this sound dangerous to you as well?

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16. Dog Robber

Some people aren’t born to fight.No matter how much they wanted to help and speed up the war, their war skills weren’t useful enough. Luckily, there were talented in other areas and equipped with certain skills that others could benefit more from them. That’s how the Dog Robbers term was born.

Dog Robber stood for soldiers who were so terrible at their jobs that they were sent off to be cooks. In a way, this term was insulting, because it referred to servants and low-brow folks who were forced to steal leftover scraps from the dogs.

15. Secesh

Secesh is short for “secessionists” and was used by Northerners in reference to Southerners and Confederates. It does sound very derogatory, but back in the days, it was pretty common to hear it.

Secesh should be pronounced with ‘I’d like and ‘c.’ This adds that extra sting. Today, Secesh stands for a secessionist soldier or sympathizer in the American Civil War.

14. Open The Ball

What do you picture when you hear this phrase? Do you envision Cinderella entering the ball? Or you see something more hilarious? During the American Civil War, Opening the Ball meant “starting the battle.”

Simply said, this line stood for – let the real party begin. Luckily, human civilization today is far from using this term ever again. Here is what slang American soldiers used for drunk moments.

13. Tight

Soldiers had access to drinks, even during the hard days of battle. Not only that they had access to booze, but they had a special name for it. In fact, tight was slang for drunk.

It came from the old expression “tight as a tick,” meaning one was so full of liquor as if they were a tick full of blood. Sounds fun and very visual, right?

12. Bust Head / Pop Skull

Moonshine. Booth. Bust Head. Pop Skull. These were all Civil War terms for whiskey. In fact, these terms were used to describe ‘cheap whiskey,’ to be precise.

This whiskey was so strong that it could pop your skull and/or bust your head open. You get what you pay for, no matter the era and circumstances.

11. Light Out

Light Out usually means that you should turn the light off, right? Well, not, if you are in a Civil War era. During the Civil War period, light out meant “to leave in haste.”

It’s like when you go out with someone for a couple of drinks (too many in fact) and they disappear from the party… This disappearance is also known as an “Irish Goodbye.”

10. See The Elephant

To See the Elephant is a line that refers to close-up combat Different styles of combat were used during the Civil War, and some were more close-up than others.

Before the Civil War and during the California gold rush, cross-country travelers spoke of an “elephant” at the end of the long road. So, when travelers began dying off, they would see the elephant more clearly. In a way, an elephant was a direct sign of death.

9. Contraband

During the Civil War, contraband referred to something that was “used by the Confederacy,” but generally had a different background. Contraband meant escaped slaves seeking refuge behind Union lines, which was a common practice during the Civil War.

Historians claim that they were paid for their involvement, but can you put a price on life and possible death? Little is known but slaves who escaped to Union liner early in the war were often returned to their masters.

8. Housewife

Ok, it’s obvious that the number of housewives at the war field, at the time was minimal. Ladies were mostly busy working as nurses and helping soldiers dealing with recovery. Yet, you could often hear soldiers searching for housewives.

The housewife was a portable sewing kit that was a crucial tool for soldiers to fix up rips and tears in their uniforms. These kits were very much loved, as they were often embroidered by the soldiers’ housewives with sweet words of love.

7. Skedaddle

The Battle of Richmond was such an important milestone in American history. This famous battle occurred in 1862 and directly led to the evacuation of Confederate troops after they were outnumbered 10 to 1 by Union soldiers.

This quick departure was used by the term ‘skedaddle,’ and it was initially used by a newspaper, and the term stuck. Today, you may hear this term in the sentence ‘when he saw us, he skedaddled.’

6. Somebody’s Darling

The battlefield is a scary place to be. The battlefield is scary for many reasons. Not only that you don’t know if you are going to make it alive or not, but you are also overwhelmed with thinking about your loved ones, and whether they are safe or not.

Plus, you get to see people dying every second. That’s why soldiers would refer to any dead soldier they found as “somebody’s darling.” This was their way of paying tribute to the wives and family members suffering from a terrible loss.

5. Forty Dead Men

Soldiers had nicknames for almost every item that they had to take with them. One item – one nickname, it was a common manner. So, what was the Forty Dead Men? Was it an object?

They referred to a full cartridge box of bullets as “Forty Dead Men.” This description was fitting, as each box generally held forty rounds. You were expecting a bigger mystery, right?

4. Play Old Soldier / Hospital Rat

Being honorable was very important during the Civil War. In fact, being honest and having honor is still relevant. Every soldier will tell you that. They would also tell you that faking any injury or not helping your mate is just terrible. During the Civil War nothing more dishonorable than a soldier who faked injury or disability to avoid battle.

These soldiers were referred to as “playing old soldier” or “hospital rats” for their frequent visits to the infirmary. Still, can you blame them for trying to avoid the horrors of war and surviving?

3. Parlor Soldiers

Parlor Soldier was a derogatory term for an unsuitable soldier. Just imagine a person talking about his war experience without having any actual war experience.

It’s like business consultants talking to business owners about running a business without having any experience as a business owner. Parlor Soldier might try to be a soldier, a good one, but was simply ill-suited for the job.

2. Grey Backs

Diseases rule when there is a war. Moreover, in the barracks, disease spread quickly. The most prevalent problem during the Civil War was malaria, also known as “The Shakes.”

Next to malaria, soldiers suffered from grey backs, otherwise known as ‘lice.’ This was also a derogatory term for Confederate soldiers, whose uniforms were grey in color.

1. Long Sweetening

Soldiers loved coffee and did their best to get that essence of coffee even on the battlefield. So, long sweetening was a term for molasses, that soldiers used to put on pancakes.

This was a replacement for sugar. Unlike sugar, this was a runny sweetener, in structure more similar to honey. Short sweetening for a term used for sugar.

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