This World War I glossary contains significant words, terms and concepts relating to the 1914-18 conflict, its causes and consequences. Contains words from A to D. It has been written by Alpha History authors. If there’s a word or term you believe should be here, please let us know.
The resignation of a monarch, either voluntarily or under duress. Several European monarchs abdicated during World War I, most notably Nicholas II of Russia in 1917.
An alliance is a formal agreement between two or more nations, pledging military, logistic or financial support to each other in the event of war or aggression. Military alliances are considered a pivotal cause of World War I.
The alliance system describes Europe’s diplomatic organisation before 1914 and its heavy reliance on alliances, supposedly as a deterrent to war.
Annexation is the forced acquisition of a region or territory by a more powerful state, such as Austria-Hungary’s annexation of Bosnia in 1908.
ANZAC is an acronym for the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps, a joint force assembled in early 1915 to participate in the Gallipoli campaign. ANZAC Day (April 25th) is a day of commemoration in both nations.
An arms race is a period where two or more nations engage in the rapid production of military technology and equipment, usually in response or rivalry to each other. The arms race and build up of military equipment and weapons is considered an important cause of World War I.
An armistice is a temporary suspension of hostilities in a war, often while a peace treaty is being negotiated. The armistice that ended fighting in World War I was signed at dawn on November 11th 1918 and came into effect at 11 am.
Artillery is a collective term for large calibre mobile guns, capable of firing explosive shells that cause considerable destruction. Artillery fire caused more deaths in World War I than any other form of weapon.
Assassination is the murder of a monarch, political leader or other significant figures. Assassinations are usually designed to stimulate or trigger political change.
Autocracy is a system of government where all political power and sovereignty is vested in a single ruler, usually a king, tsar or emperor.
Balkans (or Balkan peninsula)
The Balkans is a large region of south-eastern Europe, bordered by Austria-Hungary to the north, the Black Sea to the east, the Mediterranean Sea to the south and the Adriatic Sea to the west. Nations in the Balkans include Serbia, Bosnia, Greece and Montenegro.
A barrage is the sustained bombardment of a trench line, front or area, usually with heavy artillery or naval guns. See also box barrage, creeping barrage.
A bayonet is a long blade that is attached to the barrel of a gun, for use in infantry charges and close quarter fighting. The bayonet was considered an important weapon during the 18th and 19th centuries, however, it was largely rendered ineffective by artillery, rifle and machine-gun fire that limited hand to hand fighting.
(Serb, Crna Ruka) The Black Hand was a Serbian nationalist group, formed in 1901 and particularly active after 1908. Among the objectives of the Black Hand were the removal of Austrian control in Bosnia and the formation of a ‘Greater Serbia’ for Slavic people in the Balkans.
A blockade is a military operation to restrict movement and trade in and out of an enemy nation. The best-known blockade of World War I was carried out by Allied warships against Germany. The blockade of Germany continued until 1919 and caused widespread food shortages and starvation.
A bolt hole is a space or natural crevice in the side of a trench wall. Bolt holes were used by trench soldiers for sleeping, resting and storage.
Bosch (also Boche, Bosche)
‘Bosch’ is a derogatory term for Germans, common in England during World War I. It is derived from the French ‘caboche’ (cabbage) and German affection of sauerkraut, or pickled cabbage.
A box barrage is an artillery bombardment focused on a small target area, such as a key position or section of trench, with the aim of destroying it utterly.
Censorship refers to government control or restrictions placed on the media or publishing. Censorship was a feature of total war during World War I. It was used by all major combatants in the war, either to protect the secrecy of military operations or to shield the population from bad news.
The Central Powers refers to the alliance bloc of Germany, Austria-Hungary, Bulgaria and the Ottoman Empire. The name comes from their comparatively central location in Europe.
Chlorine gas was one of several chemical weapons used during World War I. It appeared as a grey-green cloud, smelling of bleach. Much deadlier than mustard gas, it caused death by asphyxiation and burning of the lungs and airways.
More common in the 19th century, colonial wars were one-sided conflicts against undeveloped or inferior forces, waged to gain control of a colonial possession.
A colony is a country, region or territory that is invaded and occupied by a more powerful nation, then absorbed into its empire. Colonies were usually exploited for the military, strategic or economic benefit of the colonising power, or ‘mother country’.
A conscientious objector was an individual who refused to enlist in the military or fight in war because of religious, political or pacifist beliefs. Known colloquially as ‘conchies’, they were treated with varying degrees of toleration during the war. Some conscientious objectors served in the military in non-combat roles, such as medics, stewards and cooks.
Conscription is a government policy that requires citizens to perform compulsory military service, particularly in a time of war. All major combatant powers used conscription during World War I. Conscription proved a divisive public issue in nations like Australia and Canada.
Cordite is a smokeless propellant used in munitions, including artillery shells, naval guns, mortars and rifle cartridges.
A creeping barrage is a series of artillery bombardments where the target line of shelling is moved progressively forward. The aim of a creeping barrage is to clear an area by eradicating or forcing back enemy troops, allowing infantry to advance ‘behind’ the barrage. Creeping barrages were sometimes successful but often failed to disperse enemy soldiers as predicted, leaving advancing troops exposed to gunfire.
czar (see tsar)
Defence of the Realm Act
The Defence of the Realm Act was legislation passed by the British parliament in August 1914. It gave the government sweeping powers to protect the nation and coordinate the war effort. Among these powers were social controls, censorship and the authority requisition land, machinery and buildings.
demobilisation (or ‘de-mob’)
Demobilisation, or ‘de-mob’, is the process of dismantling armies, discharging soldiers and returning them to civilian life at the conclusion of a war.
Desertion is the act of an enlisted soldier or officer abandoning or fleeing his post during a time of war. Desertion was a serious criminal offence and was usually punished by imprisonment or execution. A total of 306 British and Commonwealth troops were executed for desertion during World War I.
Diplomacy refers to formal and informal communications between nations and their governments. The aims of diplomacy are to forge good relations, advance trade interests and resolve disputes and disagreements. The breakdown and failure of European diplomacy is considered an important cause of World War I.
A diplomat is an official who represents a government in its relations with foreign governments. Diplomats include officials such as ambassadors, consuls and envoys.
A dogfight is an aerial battle between aircraft. In World War I, early dogfights took place between single-pilot planes and were considered an act of skill, courage and daring.
Dolchstosslegende (see ‘stab in the back’ legend)
Dreadnoughts were the largest class of British battleship, heavily armoured and outfitted with large artillery guns. The first Dreadnought was produced in 1906, accelerating the naval and arms race with Germany. The name Dreadnought became synonymous with any large and powerful naval vessel.
A dual monarchy is a nation or empire that is formed by the union of two different kingdoms. In a dual monarchy, the monarch is crowned twice, as king or queen of both states. Austria-Hungary was a dual monarchy, led by Franz Joseph until his death in late 1916.
A duckboard is a wooden platform installed at the bottom of a trench, to provide soldiers with a firm footing and lift them out of water or muddy ground.
A ‘dum-dum’ or ‘dum-dum bullet’ is rifle ammunition that explodes or expands when it impacts flesh, thus creating even more serious injury. The use of ‘dum-dums’ in World War I was controversial and considered by many to be a breach of the rules of war – however, all combatant powers are known to have used them.
A dynasty is a ruling family in a monarchy, such as the Romanovs in Russia and the Hapsburgs in Austria-Hungary.
This page was written by Jennifer Llewellyn, Jim Southey and Steve Thompson. To reference this page, use the following citation:
J. Llewellyn et al, “World War I glossary” at Alpha History, https://alphahistory.com/worldwar1/world-war-i-glossary/, 2017, accessed [date of last access].