Can You Decipher This WWII Slang?


By: Robin Tyler

6 Min Quiz

Image: TerryJ/E+/Getty Images

About This Quiz

War is horrible.

Of that, there is no doubt. After the War to end all Wars didn't do as promised, the rise of the Third Reich and Japanese expansion in the Pacific in the 1930s paved the way for another global conflict.

And this one saw untold misery. In fact, over 60 million people worldwide died at the time. That was almost three percent of the population. THREE PERCENT! Simply unbelievable.

And although war sees death and destruction, it also brings about changes in language. Why? Well, as in World War I, the second great global conflict introduced a new generation of slang words, some of which remain in our vocabularies today, while other slang words have fallen by the wayside.

We have included a range of these words in this World War II slang test. 

So if you know what a flyboy is, that you don't eat green lettuce, or that to get lead poisoning was really a bad thing, then this quiz should not be difficult at all for you.

But don't be too sure! Some World War II slang can be a bit wacky. Certainly, this quiz will test you to the limit!

But plow on, just like the Greatest Generation did, and aim for victory.

We know you can do it.

Good luck!

In World War II slang, what did fighter pilots call anti-aircraft fire?

In World War I, fighter pilots called anti-aircraft fire "Archie." In World War II, this fell away and it became known as "flak." Sometimes, it was also referred to as "ack-ack fire."


What item is known as an "army banjo"?

No soldier would be without a shovel during World War II. First of all, they were used to dig foxholes. And foxholes could keep you safe, especially during artillery shelling. Secondly, they could be a handy weapon when need be, especially in hand-to-hand combat.


American forces were known as what by the English during World War II?

The term "Yankee" actually comes from the American Civil War - it is what the Confederates called the northern Union forces. It was shortened to "Yanks" and applied to American forces that came in the thousands to Great Britain during World War II.


If a soldier was absent without leave, they were considered to be _______?

Still a term used in armed forces around the world today, AWOL means "absent without leave." This was a serious offense and could get a soldier court-martialed.


A soldier who "bit the dust" was _______.

Sadly, many people "bit the dust" in World War II. Around 416,800 American servicemen gave their lives for freedom. The worst hit was Russia, with over 10 million military dead and 24 million in total, including civilians.


"Kilroy was here" made its appearance during World War II. What was it?

"Kilroy was here" was a form of graffiti that started showing up wherever American servicemen had been. It was usually drawn on a wall and looked like a bald man with a long nose peeking over something. Australian serviceman did the same, but their character was called "Foo." Records show that a depiction of Kilroy was found at Fort Knox with a date of 1937.


Soldiers talking about a "corner turner" were talking about someone who had done what?

Simply put, a "corner turner" was a soldier who deserted. Desertion was actually very common during the war, even in the United States armed forces. Soldiers who deserted were also said to have gone "AWOL," or "absent without leave."


The U.S. armed forces loved to celebrate "Eagle Day." What was it?

As the American eagle appeared on some coins in U.S. currency, payday became Eagle Day. Note that servicemen were paid mostly in coins. American servicemen had a slightly ruder name for the day as well, calling it "the day the eagle sh*ts."


Who was "G.I. Jesus"?

Army chaplains were important members of the American armed forces. Not only did they visit the wounded in the hospital, but they also read last rights for dying men, sometimes on the battlefield. They also led daily prayers and met with soldiers before combat


What was a "million-dollar wound"?

Although no soldier wanted to get hit, if they did, a million-dollar wound was the preference. This was severe enough to see them sent back to England, or even better, back to the States, but would not maim or disfigure them in any way.


A "swacked" soldier was ______.

No, not dead, simply drunk. But depending on the level of drunkenness, a soldier could look dead. Some soldiers looked for booze wherever they could and were not afraid to drink, even while on the front line. And who could blame them - especially after the horrors they had seen?


What did American servicemen staying in the United Kingdom call English people?

"Limey" was originally a term used by Americans to describe British sailors in the mid-1800s. Why? Well, each day they had a ration of rum with lime juice to prevent scurvy. The name stuck and was used to describe the English during World War II.


A soldier who could not swim was called what?

This is one of those strange situations, because the walrus, despite its appearance on land, can swim - fast. A walrus cruises at around four miles per hour, but can reach 20 when necessary. The walrus' behavior on land, however, where they pretty much don't move, might have led to the analogy.


What was a "thousand-yard stare"?

Combat was a harrowing experience. Often, men faced with continual combat began to show mental strain. As a result, they might stare into the distance during lulls in the action. This became known as the "thousand-yard stare."


What support profession would be a "juice jerker"?

An army is not only about the fighting men. Sure, they are the ones that get the job done on the battlefield, but support services are just as important. For example, setting up a field command post requires a range of support crew, including electricians, engineers, cooks and more.


If someone gave you a "pineapple" because you had run out, what did you get?

Military slang for a hand grenade was "pineapple." These were very important in any battle and could be used to clear a machine gun nest, for example. The German version was called a "potato masher," as it looked like the kitchen utensil.


Navy sailors entering a "mousetrap" were doing duty on what vessel?

Submarines were very small, confined spaces. No wonder they were called "mousetraps." You didn't want to be assigned to sub duty if you were claustrophobic. The Gato class was one of the main submarines used by the United States Navy during World War II.


What were Germans called by U.S. forces during World War II?

Germans were commonly known as "Krauts" by American servicemen during World War II. Why? Well, a favorite dish in Germany is sauerkraut, which is pickled cabbage. The name was just a shortening of that.


A soldier wanting "axle grease" on their slice of bread wanted what?

Well, it probably could grease an axle! While on the front line and in action, there was no hope of seeing any luxury such as butter. It was only if your company was rotated out of the action that anything other than rations was available, and even then, it wasn't the greatest chow.


Fighter pilots who "bailed out" performed what act?

To "bail out" meant to leave your aircraft mid-flight, jump out of it and then pray your parachute opened. This was dangerous in itself, as part of the plane could hit you as you left it. And just think, in a bomber, there were more crew to get out of the aircraft. Imagine the panic!


Any serving company due some "R&R" would see what?

Men cannot fight forever. Fatigue sets in, and that leads to bad judgment calls. Bad judgment calls lead to death. So every now and then a company of soldiers would be rotated away from the action. Not just from the front but possibly to a liberated city, Paris, for example, to get some rest and relaxation.


If a G.I. was writing a "behavior report," what was he doing?

Communication with the outside world was extremely important for soldiers and kept many of them going through the tough times. Of course, getting a letter from your sweetheart was prized. Writing back to them was known as a "behavior report."


Any ideas as to what a "cast-iron bathtub" might be?

Yes, it seems Navy personnel loved to give their ships silly names. For instance, a submarine was called a "mousetrap" or a "tin pickle." Something a little bigger, like a battleship, was a "cast-iron bathtub."


"Wilco," heard during radio transmissions, meant what?

Although they were large and ungainly, field radios were crucial during World War II. Why? Well, they could do a number of things - direct artillery fire and call for reinforcements, as critical examples. Of course, a whole new radio language developed to keep things short and sweet, and "wilco" meant "will comply."


What would a British pilot call his aircraft during World War II?

Actually, most pilots had a range of nicknames for their aircraft. Some became so attached to them that they personalized them in some way, for example by naming them, usually after their moms or girlfriends.


"S.O.L." meant which of these?

A soldier who was killed on his final day before a bit of rest and relaxation was "sh*t outta luck." There were many other terms like this as well, for example, "S.N.A.F.U.," which meant "situation normal, all fouled up" (or something similar).


If a solider was asked for his "podunk," he would reply with what?

Yes, a "podunk" was your hometown. Why it had to have a name like "podunk" assigned to it, well, that's the Army for you. It actually comes from a group of Native Americans who lived near the Podunk River in the mid-1800s. Today, it might be used to describe a one-horse town off the beaten path.


Which class of serviceman was a "mud eater"?

That's right - an infantryman. It could be an Army infantryman (a G.I.) or a Marine, it didn't matter. Those were always the troops that were first to face enemy fire, storm the beaches or do whatever else needed to be done.


A soldier who died from "lead poisoning" died from what?

Bullets are made from lead. So when a soldier mentioned his buddy had died from "lead poisoning," it was because he had taken many bullets. This was all too common, with the amount of weaponry used during the war.


Many soldiers carried a "pig snout" as part of their gear. What was it?

Although chemical weapons were not used during World War II, unlike World War I, gas masks were still considered to be important, just in case the Axis powers turned desperate. These were known as pig snouts.


A "rookie" was the name given to whom?

In war, servicemen die. That's a fact. But they need to be replaced. And those replacements coming in were given the title "rookie." It is simply a shortening of recruit and was first used in the 19th century.


"Jawbreakers" were what, exactly?

That's right! Those things were hard as rocks. So they quickly became known as "jawbreakers" in Army circles. Whether they actually did break anyone's jaw is not known, but they must have busted a tooth or two. Anyway, soldiers still ate them. They had little choice.


If you ate "ham that didn't pass its physical," what were you eating?

The United States military in World War II ran on SPAM. In fact, soldiers would eat it up to three times a day. Why? Well, it's easily carried around in its tin, easily opened and eaten just out of the tin. It's almost the perfect ration, but soon everybody just got sick of SPAM.


What would infantrymen call pilots?

War was terrible, no matter what branch you were in. But for the ground troops, the men pushing through the muck, mud, bodies and blood, pilots seem to have it pretty good. Hence the term "flyboys."


Soliders with "pocket lettuce" had _____?

Money was worthless to a soldier on the front line. But when he finally got some leave or time away from the front line, it was a good thing to have, bills especially. This was known as "pocket lettuce."


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