As with all armed forces throughout history, the French
Grande Armée of the Napoleonic Wars used a colorful and extensive vocabulary of slang terms to describe their lives, times and circumstances and express their reactions towards them.
This is a partial glossary article meant to supplement the articles on
La Grande Armée and Military slang. Providing such information can greatly help the reader to understand and appreciate the lives of these soldiers. There are also a few terms included from the later Armée du Nord included here for the sake of interest and completeness.
(Abbey of drunks) Abbaye-de-Sot-Bougre the camp prison
(fly's drinking trough) un abreuvoir à mouches a deep gash in one's face
(The White Weapon) L'Arme Blanche 1) a cutting or thrusting weapon (such as a sword or lance) rather than gunpowder weapons like firearms or cannon. 2) The cavalry, especially hussars and lancers.
(the other dogs, pun for Les autres chiens autrichiens, French for Austrians) Austrians
(having a garrison) Avoir de la garnison to have lice
(having frostbitten eyes) Avoir des engelures aux yeux to be afraid during an attack
(to have one's slope) avoir sa pente to be a drinker.
(lit. the marionette, fig. debauchery) la bamboche
The Legion of Honour.
(a fine swashbuckler) un beau sabreur a
(the puffer) la bouffarde a short-stemmed pipe.
(from briscard brisque, insignia of a rehired soldier) a veteran campaigner. From the inverted chevron worn on the upper sleeve to indicate their veteran status.
(wall-breaker, or fort-breaker) brise-muraille artilleryman
(the brutal one) le brutal Artillery.
(bulletin/report) un bulletin a liar
(Sawbones) Les Carabins Surgeons.
(Gut Breaker) Le Casse-Poitrine Strong drink.
(Celery Eaters) Les Céleris Commissary officers.
(The Hat) Le Chapeau
(the charming [woman]) La charmante mange/scabies
(Brutal Horse) Le Cheval Brutal
(Rib of Ox) La Côte de Boeuf A sabre.
(The Emperor's cousins) Les Cousins de l'Empereur Corsicans.
(Skull, referring to the brain within) Un Crâne An experienced campaigner.
(Springed Crucifix) Le Crucifix à Ressort A pistol.
(Cuckoo) Le Coucou A
(monkey's arse) Le cul-de-singe the round, red, insignia patch on a grenadier's bearskin cap
(little Cupids) Les Cupidons Russian
La Débine Poverty.
(March Off) Défiler en Parade To die in battle.
(lunch on a fork, or eating lunch with a fork) Déjeuner à la fourchette a bayonet attack
(Drop One's Guard) Descendre la Garde To die in battle.
(lit. "hard to cook", tough guy) Dur à cuire An experienced campaigner.
(Hardwood) Dur Cormant Beef.
(kissed by a young lady) embrassé par une demoiselle wounded by a cannonball
(put in with the moths) être mis aux mites Jailed.
(being damaged) être abîmé To be wounded.
(To make a Bump) Faire une Bosse Eat well.
(The Party) La Fête War.
(the big-mouthed flute) La flûte a gros bec Artillery
(One who is sensitive to cold) Un Frileux A frightened soldier.
(To Graze) Friser A near miss.
(génie has many French definitions -- Génies Genie, wizard, genius, engineer)
(Steel Vests) Gilets de Fer
(a leg [as in leg of lamb]) un gigot an ugly or botched amputation
(the "god damns") Les Goddams British infantry.
(The Big Hats) Les Grands Chapeaux Napoleon and his
(The Grumblers/Growlers) Les Grognards
Imperial Old Guards.
(Big Heels) Gros Talons
(as happy as a fish in the hay) Heureux comme un poisson sur la paille to be depressed
(Mortgage) Hypothèque Be wounded.
(Immortals) Les Immortels
(Sap of the Tree) Le Jus de l'Arbre Wine.
(from Les Kaiserlicks kaiserlich, "Imperial") Austrian infantry.
(Chinese Lantern) Lampion Napoleon Bonaparte's cocked hat. Derived from the similar sounding "L'Empereur".
(merchant of sudden-death) Marchand de mort subite the Master-at-Arms
(Unwilling walker/marcher) Marche à Regret Conscript.
(Walks on land, or land-walker) Marche à Terre Foot slogger.
(marching holding the wolf's tail) marcher à la queue au loup a night march (soldiers would hold onto the coattails of the soldier in front)
Marie-Louise Enthusiastic but inexperienced conscript of the 1813-15 drafts.
(Set One's Teeth on Edge) Mettre les Dents au Crochet To be starving.
(airing one's crockery) Mettre sa vaisselle à l'air Wearing (showing-off) one's medals
(Breadcrumbs) La Mie de Pain Fleas.
(Napoleon's month) Le mois de Napoléon the thirteenth month of one's tour
(The Word of Le mot de Cambronne Cambronne) Shit! (Merde!).
Les Musikos Brothels.
(The Music) La Musique War.
(The Wedding) La Noce War.
(The Bird) L'oiseau A French eagle.
(They Are Ripping Muslin) On Déchire de la Mousseline A Volley of Fire (by poorly drilled troops).
(The Boss) Le Patron Napoleon Bonaparte.
(painted with furniture polish) peint à l'encaustique an inexperienced hussar (they would draw moustaches on them)
(Little (humble) Corporal) Le Petit Caporal Napoleon Bonaparte.
(Little Shaved/Mowed One) Le Petit Tondu Napoleon Bonaparte.
(The Muftis) Les Pékins Civilians.
(Grind Peppercorns) Piler du Poivre Sentry duty.
(pebble-pusher) pousse-caillou infantryman
(to kick [ Pousser la botte au cochon lit. push one's boot against] the pig) running one's sword through somebody's throat
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(A gust) Une Rafale A frightened soldier.
(Grape) Le raisin Blood.
(Rice, Bread, Salt) Riz-Pain-Sel Commissary officers.
(Booze) Le Rogomme Strong drink.
(The Roastbeefs) Les Rosbifs Englishmen or English soldiers. From their traditional ration of salted beef.
(the no-britches) Les sans-culottes Radical left-wing partisans of the lower classes. They wore worker's pantaloons and socks rather than gentlemen's breeches and hose.
(Grasshoppers) Les Sauterelles British riflemen, who wore green uniforms rather than the red uniforms issued to common British infantry.
(Life Saver) Le Sauve-la-Vie Strong drink.
(the old boot) la savate an informal punishment where a soldier who had committed an infraction against his fellows was forcibly bent over and then kicked in the buttocks by his squadmates. Typical charges were for concealing small valuables or loot, badly preparing the squad's meal, straggling on the march, or arriving too late on the battlefield. Victims were sentenced to either the "thin" or the "fat" of the boot depending on the severity of the infraction. Using the "thin" part was kicking with the sole or side of the toe (which was less painful) and using the "fat" part was stomping the target with the heel of the boot (which was more painful).
(to have one's hair washed with lead) Se faire laver les cheveux avec du plomb to be executed by firing squad.
(soldiers served with cream) Les soldats à la crème Austrian troops (because of their white uniforms).
('Devils') Teufels Prussian infantry.
('The Shorn One') Le Tondu Napoleon
(Roll One's Eyes/Faint) Tourner de l'oeil To die.
(To Find) Trouver To steal.
(the bedbugs' sidewalk) le trottoir à punaises the ornamental fringe on a shako visor
This section is empty. You can help by adding to it. (July 2010)
(Old moustache) Vieille Moustache Veteran campaigner.
(old pants) Vieille culotte A veteran
(True fellow) Vrai Bougre Veteran campaigner.
References [ edit ]
Chandler, David, Dictionary of the Napoleonic Wars. London 1979 Haythornthwaite, Philip,
Who Was Who in the Napoleonic Wars, London, 1998.