If you could go back in time 100 years, you might find it a little challenging to understand exactly what people were talking about. In the early 1900s, some words had radically different meanings.
For instance, there’s the word “slacker.” A slacker was any able-bodied young man who did not volunteer to serve in the military (and subsequently become part of the American Expeditionary Force).
Wanting to learn more about this time period in American history, I also studied World War 1. It wasn’t called WW1 until the late 1930s, when WW2 broke out. In the late 1910s, it was known as “The Great War.” When the American government was selling the citizens on the idea of another war, we were promised that this would be “The War to End All Wars.” (Turned out, they were wrong about that.)
One of the most chilling definitions I learned was the etymology of the term “basket-case.” During the The Great War, when a soldier lost his limbs in battle, a wicker basket was used to carry the limbless figure off the battlefield. One can only imagine the mental state of such a soldier. The fellow soldiers described him as “a real basket-case.”
“Smut” was another interesting term. It was a disease of the wheat crop, and in the early 1900s, smut damaged so much wheat that it caused a nation-wide shortage of wheat.
An article in the 1920 Stanolind Record (employee newsletter of Standard Oil) said that soon Carlinville residents would be “coming out of the mud.” (Carlinville’s “Standard Addition” neighborhood has 152 Sears Homes in a 12-block area. Carlinville is in central Illinois.) For several months, I could not glean the meaning of this unusual phrase. Finally, I found a clipping that said a neighborhood had just “come out of the mud.” It showed freshly paved streets and sidewalks. “Coming out of the mud” meant the subdivision now had proper sidewalks and city streets.
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