Wednesday Words & Phrases: Chat or Chatting

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Chat or Chatting

How many times have you said you needed to have a chat with someone? Or have you seen two people chatting? Usually, we mean it as a short conversation, something small, nothing major.  Well, the word comes to us from deep in the trenches of WWI.

Lice was an issue in the trenches during WWI. Lots of bodies huddled close together allowed the little buggers to multiply by the millions. Small enough to hide in the folds of clothing, in the hair and other places they seemed to be everywhere causing itching rashes and just general irritation. Now it turns out that in Hindi the word for these lice was “chatt”, it is also known that French soldiers during the Napoleonic Wars referred to them as “chats”. There is also a word in medieval English “chateren” which means idle gossip. So how does all this tie together?

It was not uncommon during WWI  to see groups of soldiers sitting around, close together, picking lice off of each other. They would use their fingernails to squash them or a candle to burn them. As they sat around picking the lice, or “chats” from each other they would engage in small talk. before long when groups were seen engaging in this behavior they were said to be “chatting”.  Sure they probably did the same thing in every war, but this was the one where the term started being used in an everyday sense.

So hopefully the next time you need to “have a chat” with someone it does not involve lice.