The English language is cool.
Yes, it’s full of strange rules and even stranger exceptions. And yes, there are plenty of words that are spelled the same and sound the same but have two totally different meanings (homonyms). But despite all of that I still think it’s pretty neat. In fact, it’s argued that with its over 500,000 words English has the richest vocabulary in the world.
Now, you may be wondering: ‘What does this have to do with the Civil War?’ Well, with those 500,000 words it stands to reason that at least a couple would have their origins in the Civil War, and they do! So the following is a very short list of some of the words we commonly use today that got their start during the Civil War.
1. Deadline – nowadays, this term is used to refer to a point in time when something like an assignment or credit payment is due. However, the word originates from Civil War prison camps where it referred to a boundary line. If a prisoner crossed this “deadline” they were shot dead, no questions asked. In comparison, today’s deadlines seem infinitely less stressful.
2. Sideburns – Gen. Ambrose E. Burnside was a Union general who replaced Gen. George B. McClellan as commander of the Army of the Potomac in 1862. Burnside was easily recognized by his flamboyant hats and his bushy side whiskers which connected to his mustache. Burnside popularized this facial hairstyle which became known as sideburns.
3. Hooker – Gen. Joseph Hooker replaced Gen. Burnside in the beginning of 1863. Gen. Hooker was known for keeping plenty of prostitutes around his camps in an attempt to keep up his soldiers’ morale. Though the word hooker was coined prior to the Civil War, the constant stream of women around Hooker’s regiment cemented the term and its meaning.
4. Shebang – (as in “the whole shebang”) was the term used to describe the shelters Union POWs at Andersonville built for themselves out of whatever cloth they could find. Needless to say, the shebangs were pretty pathetic excuses for shelter, and “the whole shebang” didn’t consist of much.