War and Social Upheaval: World War I --Le Boche

Figure 1.--This drawing by French illustrator Francisque Poulbot shows the depth of feeling that developed among the World War I combatants. The boy is writing "Mort aux boches" (Death to the Germans) on the wall. "Le boche" is of course the derogatoy term the French used for the Germans. The caption reads, "Celui qui effacera ça, il n'est pas encore né!" ("He who will erase this ('Death to the Germans') hasn't been born yet!")

An assessmet of the drogatory French word for the Germans, "le boche", is an interesting study of French-German relations during the 19th and 20th century. The word, once so common, is no longer heard in France. As far as we can determine, the Germans had no comparative derogatory term for the French--although their allies the English did.


This drawing by French illustrator Francisque Poulbot shows the depth of feeling that developed among the World War I combatants. The boy here is writing "Mort aux boches" (Death to the Germans) on the wall (figure 1). The caption reads, "Celui qui effacera ça, il n'est pas encore né!" ("He who will erase this ('Death to the Germans') hasn't been born yet!") Poulbot drew many such illustrations. Some like this were aimed at the Germans. Other illustrations were about the consequences of war--the War orphans. Poulbot lived through World War II and the German occupation, I'm not sure how he made out. The NAZIs could not have been very happy about his drawings. Actually Poulbot was wrong about the person's not yet born. Both Konrad Adenauer and Charles of Gaulle, the two craftsmen of the Franco-German reconciliation had actually already been born and it was these two which did in fact erase the inscription on the wall.

Le Boche

"Le bosch" (meaning the German enemy) is of course the derogatoy term the French used or the Germans. Le Boche is, according to a encyclopaedia, a French informal short form of "Alboche" meaning "Allemand" (German). I'm not sure when the term first appeared. Presumably it was in use by the Franco-Prussian War (1870-71), perhaps earlier.

A French reader tells us in 2002, "My wife often visits elderly people. She tells me that these people never use the word 'boche' even if they suffered at the hands of the Germans during World War II. In contrast, my grandmother, who was a very respectable person, used the word quite often. So did my mother, but I don't remember my uncle using it. At the time I recall, right after World War II, my mother used it quite commonly--she didn't like the Germans at all. I should mention that she lost a child in the War, my elder brother. She was taught from childhood a hatred of the Germans. I don't know why she decided that I shold study German in secondary school. Of course these felings have past. Young people today do not understand how people thought during the first half of the 20th century! "

A French reader tells us that he heard this word, employed by hurdy-gurdie men that were veterans that experienced the horrors of World War I and II.


A French readrer believes that the term "le boche" and he Poulbot drawings are an important part of histoy. This word "le boche" is no longer used in France, but is a relic of history. While some do not like the ord, it is not possile to rewrite history and pretend it never existed. The word was commonly used in France during the first half of the0th century. Since the 1950s, France and Germany have become friendly and are now trying to build a new, united Europe. Perhaps some day there will be a new United States of Europe, where each state will preserve its cultural characteristics while being interdependent with the others. It will be a great step for humanity. There is still much to be done, but there has been great progress made since the 1960s. The posting of the Poulbot images was not done to criticize the building of a united Europe through the European Union (EU), but rather to provide an insight into World War I and show what Europe was like before the EU. The hatred an animosities of the 19th an early 20th century should not be forgotten. That is the value of history to provide information that civilization can use to prevent past mistakes.

"Boches" is a slang word, it comes from the linguistic contraction of "Alboches" which designated the Germans formerly. This word must comes from a time when France was not yet known as France yet. The Romans called French "Gaules". After the fall of Rome, Germanic invasions, between 3rd and the 7th century swept over Gaul or modern France. One of the Germanic tribes was the "Francs" who of course gave their name to France. France experienced many invasions from the Celts, Ligurians, Ibéres, Romans, the Germanic tribes, the Vikings/Norman, Anglo-Saxons, and others. More recently France has experienced a wave of immigration from its former colonies, especially North africa, with some French liken to an invasion. These migrations an invasions over time have created a country of considerable diversity, adding to the cultural richness of modern France.

Other Terms

As far as we can determine, the Germans had no comparative derogatory term for the French. You would think that given the intensiy of feeling between the two countries, that the Germans would also have a derisive term. That was the general pattern among neighboring countries in the 19th and early 20th century. I'm not sure what word the Germans used for the French. The term the Germans usually used appears to have been "Franzmänner", meaning French people. This was the term used by Remarque in Im Westen nichts Neues (All Quiet on the Western Front)--the most famous epic novel emerging from the War on the Western Front. Interestingly, while the Germans did not have a deogatory term for the French, their allies the English did. The English called the French "frogs". I'm not sure when this term first appeared, presumably earlier when the English viewed the French as enemies and the Germans (Prussians) as friends. (German Kaiser Wilhelm II played a major role in changing this perception, as did Queen Alexandra.) I'm also not sure about the derivation of the appelage "frog", perhaps it was related to all the nasal pronunciations in the French language. The French called Americans "Amerloques" but this was not derogatory. Both the English and French called the Americans "Yanks"--much to the consternation of soldiers from the southern states. A Dutch reader provides us some interesting information about comparable terms in the Nerherlands. The derogatory name for the Germans by the Dutch is "Mof" (or "Moffen" in plural). Now, a mof is a muff in English. German day-laborers who used to work as peat diggers along the Dutch border seemed to be wearing them. Hence the name. There also is a saying in Dutch "as silent as a mof", but I don't know if that refers to Germans or not. The founder of the Netherlands was William of Orange-Nassau, aka William the Silent, who was of German birth. Germany was called "Moffrika" during World War II. As far as I know the Germans did not use derogatory terms for the Dutch unless it was "dumme Hollaender" (stupid Hollanders). The French sometimes were called "poilus'", but that wasn't really unfriendly. I never heard anything nasty in reference to the British of Americans.

Modern French-German Relations

A French reader tells us that "le Boche" is now considered a swear word, never used today. The using of this word in public can be punished by the law. With the passage of time, France and Germany are now the heart of the European Union (EU) and are very close. The border between the two countries have almost diasppeard. Like most other EU-members, the French and Germans now even use the same money. There are even common television programs. The principal problems remain the languages, but more and more Germans and French are learning English instead of each others' language. Since 2001, many primary schools have begun to teach English. Plans exist to make English compulsory by 2004. Some political leaders are asking that English should be introduced in the nursery school. The study of French is more difficult for a German than the study of English. It is similar for the French. German grammar is more complicated than English grammar. In additions many words are alike.

French Text

The Frebch reader forwarding HBC the Poulbot drawings has porovide the following comments concerning the term, "le boche": Ce mot n’est plus d’actualité maintenant, il appartient à l’Histoire. Mais on ne peut pas changer l’Histoire, elle est têtue. J’ai entendu ce mot, employé par de vielles personnes ayant connu les horreurs des guerres 1914-18 et 1939-45. Depuis les années 1950, France et Allemagne sont amies et essayent de construire l’Europe unie. Peut-être arriverons nous, un jour, à construire, ensemble, les États Unis d’Europe, où chaque état conservera ses particularités culturelles tout en étant solidaire avec les autres. Ce sera un grand pas pour l’humanité. Il y a encore beaucoup de chemin à faire, mais ça avance. La transmission des images de Poulbot n’avait pas pour but de contrarier la construction de cette Europe unie, mais de transmettre une vue d’une époque passée. Toutefois, gommer ces époques et leurs excès, c’est nier l’Histoire humaine dont on doit tirer des leçons. «Boches» est un mot argotique, il provient de la contraction linguistique de «Alboches» qui désignait les Allemands autrefois. Ce mot doit provenir d’une époque, où la France ne s’appelait pas encore la France, mais «les Gaules». C’est à dire de la période des invasions germaniques, entre le 3e et le 7e siècle de l’ère chrétienne. Certains de ces Germains s’appelaient les «Francs», c’est eux qui ont donné son nom à la France. La France a connu beaucoup d’invasions dans son Histoire : les Celtes, les Ligures, les Ibères, les Romains, les Germains, les Normands, les Anglo-Normands, etc. Et plus récemment les peuples de ses anciennes colonies. C’est probablement ce qui fait sa richesse. Votre sujet de recherche mène à tout. Nous devions parler de l’évolution de la mode enfantine et voilà que nous parlons d’humanité. C’est comme une pelote de fil. On tire sur le petit bout qui dépasse et la pelote se déroule. Si on tire trop fort sur le petit bout, toute la pelote se déroule. Ce n’est plus du fil que l’on voit mais l’univers et l’histoire de l’humanité.

Christopher Wagner

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Created: June 21, 2001
Last updated: June 27, 2001