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British Pronunciation Guide to World War 1

james norman hall wwi

How to Pronounce Ypres, As Recorded by Lafayette Escadrille Pilot James Norman Hall

How do you pronounce Ypres?

James Norman HallIt’s an important name in WWI history, but worrying to the non-French-speaking American afraid to appear ignorant or insulting to an ally. Ee-prez? Eye-pray? Yip-ress? The British, however, had no such worries.

Part of James Norman Hall’s introduction to trench warfare (before he returned to the US, wrote Kitchener’s Mob, and then became a Lafayette Escadrille pilot) was instruction in the proper British pronunciation of French words. Hall had pronounced Ypres the French way “which put me under suspicion as a ‘swanker.’”

One of the British soldiers gave him a friendly correction: “S’y ‘Wipers.’ That’s wot we calls it.”

So Hall did, but he also learned “Eeps” and “Yipps” as alternate pronunciations. For other French terms, there was “Armenteers” (as in “Mademoiselle from”), and “Bally-all” for Balleul and “Hazy-Brook” for Hasebrouck and “Plug-Street” for Ploegsteert.

Army of One?

Wherever he went, as soon as he opened his mouth, Hall’s American accent showed he was, as he said, “an American Expeditionary Force of one,” and he could perhaps have explained to the US Army of the early 21st century that an “army of one” is not taken all that seriously by the allied combat veterans, who offered to teach him “every bloomin’ thing about the trenches that a bloke needs to know,” starting with “trench pets” (also known as lice...“They ain’t nothin’ but fire that’ll kill ‘em.”)

In another note on how the British speak English, Hall tells about an artillery observation officer “jumping up and down on the firing-bench” as the men went up out of the trenches. He was shouting “Go it, the Norfolks!” and “Isn’t it fine! Isn’t it splendid!” Hall’s comment: “There you have the British officer true to type. He is a sportsman: next to taking part in a fight he loves to see one – and he says ‘isn’t’ not ‘ain’t’ even under stress of the greatest excitement.”

Read Hall's descriptions of trench warfare in Kitchener's Mob or tell others about it with our t-shirt commemorating just a couple of James Norman Hall's accomplishments.

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