meaning and origin of the word ‘Boche’


Notre Joffre (parody of the Lord’s Prayer)
first published in 1914 in Le Radical de Marseille
(75 refers to the French 75-mm field gun.)



From 1914 to 1916, Joseph Joffre (1852-1931) was the commander in chief of the French armies on the Western Front.

The following parody of the Lord’s Prayer is to be replaced in its historical context. The First World War took place during the Third Republic (1870-1940), which was deeply secular—even anti-clerical for some of its elements. In 1905 in particular, Parliament had passed the law on the separation of Church and State.

Notre Joffre,
Qui êtes au feu,
Que votre nom soit glorifié, que votre victoire arrive,
Que votre volonté soit faite sur la terre comme dans le ciel ;
Donnez-leur aujourd’hui votre « pain » quotidien ;
Redonnez-nous l’offensive, comme vous l’avez donnée à ceux qui les ont enfoncés ;
Ne nous laissez pas succomber à la teutonisation, mais délivrez-nous des Boches !
Ainsi soit-il.
Our Joffre,
Who are on the firing line,
May your name be glorified, may your victory come,
May your will be done on earth as in heaven;
Give them today your daily “bread”¹;
Give us back the offensive, as you gave it to those who broke through them;
Lead us not into Teutonisation, but deliver us from the Boches²!

¹ Here, pain, literally bread, means thrashing (un pain is still French slang for a punch, i.e. a blow with the fist).

² The origin of the French noun boche as a derogatory term for a German (soldier) is unclear. Attested in 1886, it probably shows either:

– a sense development of boche in the expression tête de boche, which is attested in 1862 and denoted an obstinate, ignorant or unintelligent person. In tête de boche, boche is probably a shortened form of caboche, meaning literally head and figuratively blockhead.

– or a shortening of Alboche, also Alleboche, attested in 1860 as a derogatory term for a German; the expression tête d’alboche is attested in 1868 in the same sense. Alboche is an alteration of Allemand, either after boche or caboche, or after slang formations in -boche, for example rigolboche, amusing, also attested in 1860 (from 1858, Rigolboche was the nickname of a French dancer, Amélie Marguerite Badel (1842-1920), credited with inventing the cancan).

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