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Thursday, March 10, 2011

In the heat of battle

Right now, I've got Sticklers, Sideburns, & Bikinis: The Military Origins of Everyday Words and Phrases by Graeme Donald out from the Wedge library, and here are a few highlights.
We already know about bikinis from this post.
As for sideburns, it seems that during the Civil War, there was a gentleman called General Ambrose Everett Burnside. Who was, apparently, a big fat idiot with sideburns. According to Donald, his greatest military brainchild was that of having his soldiers jump into a giant hole, allowing Confederate soldiers to just kind of hang out and shoot down at them.
At the time this went down, people were already calling the stylish face-scaping Burnsides, but afterward, people took to calling them sideburns because Burnsides did everything backwards. 
Lincoln was reported to have said of the ill-fated Battle of the Crater, as it became known, "Only Burnside could managed such a coup, wring one more spectacular defeat from the jaws of victory."
The quote business sounded like absolute bull to me, so I looked it up, and this site corroborates my suspicion; the phrase doesn't appear until the 1970s. I looked into the sideburns etymology, though, and that seems legit.
Sticklers  comes from the Middle English stightle, which means set in order. The word was applied to umpires in the sport of wrestling and such, and they were known for often being, well, sticklers for the rules. 
I could go on, certainly, do a proper post, but I've got miles to go before I sleep, and certain individuals kept me out late carousing. Carouse, by the way, comes to us from the Middle French word for drink or chug. Which allegedly comes from German gar aus, which means something like quite out. I have no idea what quite out has to do with drinking, but what do I know?


Cap'n Ergo "XL+II" Jinglebollocks said...

so where do the sideburns stop and the muttonchops begin, I wonder??

Anonymous said...

Burnside's actions at Fredericksburg are just as interesting. He ordered 14 frontal assaults. Why Burnside ordered assaults #10, 11, 12, or 13 thinking it would succeed is mind boggling. Burnside's intention to lead the same charge with new troops the next day is equally difficult to fathom. At least by the crater he was a little more prepared. Officially the plan was not to charge into the hole created, but to move around the edges of it. Commanders lower down changed the plan as the maneuvered on the battlefield.