Sticklers, Sideburns & Bikinis: The Military Origins of Everyday Words and Phrases
by Graeme Donald
Sticklers, Sideburns & Bikinis is a collection of words with military origins, and their history and dissemination into the common vernacular. Author Graeme Donald is very thorough in his explorations; for each word he provides its definition – both at the time of origin and in our modern language – and how that word evolved in the intervening years. Take, for example, his report on the origin of the word ‘buff’:
In the 17th century a buff coat, made of any stout leather, formed the main part of a soldier’s defensive garb and continued to do so in America until the turn of the 20th century. A good buffalo hide coat was the closest thing a trooper had to body armor.
Before fire brigades were regulated forces, fire-fighting duties fell to soldiers in local barracks who found their buff coats effective fire-protection and the additional pay most welcome; there were frequent and unkind reports blaming acts of arson on local soldiers greedy for fire bonus payments, but that is another matter. The professional fire-fighters who emerged in 1850s America were irked by the constant appearance of those they called “Buffs,” soldiers turning out to fires to “help” but only succeeding in getting in the way. By 1900 the term had broadened in firefighters’ jargon to include the kind of person who turned out regularly to watch some poor person’s house burn down, and from this term rolled out into general parlance to denote enthusiasts in any field: film buff, opera buff, and so on.
Donald brings a subtle humor to many of his entries, all of which are crammed with little stories and facts about military. But he takes his research one step further by embracing the larger world outside the military to fully explain the evolution of each word. For example, in his entry for ‘ninja’ Donald reveals that the word is of Western origin, a combination of two Chinese words. He continues to unravel the mystery of the ninja, examining the truth behind the myth of Japan’s shinobi.
Trivia buffs, military enthusiasts and word nerds will have a lot of fun exploring the hundreds of words in Sticklers, Sideburns & Bikinis. The length of each entry varies, but reading about a few words each day will keep you entertained for quite a while. Scattered throughout there are also several black and white illustrations.
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