Dated phrases and events

Cambridge District Scout Archive

This list of dated phrases feeds an understanding of changing attitudes within Scouting which are strongly in line with, and usually half a step ahead of, the attitudes of the day.

In compiling a list that includes unkind terminology it may appear that the whole of scouting literature was compiled of such.  This is not the case and the opposite can be very strongly argued.  The manners and politeness of much of the 20th century are very much to the fore in the representative periodicals.  Local communications are as careful to avoid negative terms. 

Having absorbed the law ‘A Scout is a friend to all and a brother to every other Scout’ it is carried through.  People around the world are accepted as people and given respect.  Even the centuries old insults are against the French are not revisited.


I am not, perhaps, the best person to identify such phrases; my earliest membership predates the Advance Report.  This means the phrases are less obviously dated to me – I may not spot them because they are within my ‘norm’.   As an historian I read such anachronistic expressions as evidence.  I would bridle at hearing some if used today but when read attempt to place them within the context of era in which they were written.

  • We most easily spot ‘dated phrases’ that reflect now unacceptable ideas.   What is now deemed unacceptable may not have been used with ill will but unthinkingly as part of the vocabulary of the age.
  • Phrases that do not challenge our modern ideas can as readily date.  We may miss these because we are not sensitized to their use. 
  • Similarly phrases that were ahead of the common use are difficult to spot because they are now the norm e.g. Inferiority Complex in 1933                                

General Scout literature

1908 +             Ladies  and Gentlemen           Standard usage for the age – within Scouting documents it altered to women and in the current POR it is used on two occasions; to say all posts are open to all and in identifying two minor uniform differences.  The very differentiation carried all the unspoken assumptions and limitations of the age. 

1913                The Provinces                        From ‘The Scout’ magazine reports, meaning everywhere other than ‘London and Suburbs’.  Cambridgeshire is very clearly part of the provinces.        

1920                Temperance               The Temperance society was listed as a Kindred Society.  Whilst the word ‘temperance’ has become to mean ‘abstinence’, particularly within the context of a Temperance Society, it generally meant ‘moderation’.

1926 +             Special Tests Branch for scouts with physical or mental handicap                          ‘Cripple’ was in common use in the 1930’s             

It became        Handicapped Scout Branch  from   1932                                      also seen Subnormal Children in 1940, Mentally defective in 1953.

It became       Extension Scouting                from    1966    The 1966 Advance report adopted the then current government terminology and reflects the care supplied at the time.  It advocated that all but the last of the categories, below, be included in Scouting and observed that most were.  The categories were: Educationally sub normal, Physically handicapped, Delicate, Diabetic, Epileptic, Deaf or partially deaf, maladjusted, speech defects and mentally sub normal.  The last was considered ‘ineducable’.

We now use    Disability        as in the phrase ‘a person with a disability’. In turn each word or phrase is held to have accumulated negative connotations or usage.  The terms were not selected with that intent nor used in a negative manner by scouts.  Cripple is not a term that would now be used but was originally a non judgemental observation, ‘a person with a crippling disability’, that moved to become a taunt.

1934                Occasionally phrases creep in through advertisers content that are not seen in articles by scouters.  A shade of cloth is described as ‘nigger brown’ in The Rover. The absence of this term in Scouting literature is telling in itself.

Cambridge Archive

<1908  +                      Cigarette Cards          A series of collectable cards in each packet of cigarettes.

1908 +                       Mixed Events                         Mixed events or mixed activities refer to planned events where both girls and boys are assembled together.            

                                    Divers                          Now a formal and uncommon word ‘divers’ means ‘many’ rather than diverse which means ‘different’

1917                            Palliasses                            A (thin) mattress stuffed with straw. This was also seen as ‘Paddy asses’ in a 1937 log book.  It is not clear from context if this was misheard, a repeated mishearing from someone in the party or a deliberate ‘funny’.

1918                             ‘a bit doolally’                    temporarily deranged or feeble-minded

1921                            Necessitous                .’…his scheme for gifts for necessitous children.’  Children in need

1931                            Waifs and Strays        Originally two forms of ownerless property the phrase ‘Waifs and Strays’ as a whole came to mean abandoned children.

1932                            Faggot                         ‘Wood will be sold in faggots 2d each’   A rule from Abington camp site.  Originally a bundle about 3 feet long and 2 feet in circumference: such an exact definition was probably not known in 1932.  It is likely that the bundle was approximately this size.

1932                            Hessian                       Coarse dense loose woven fabric made from sisal, the skin of the jute plant.  Used for sacking and backing for carpets.  Not generally dyed.

1933                            Inferiority Complex   First coined in 1922 this is perhaps an early and unusual occurrence in a report on why scouts left the troop             ‘Could not overcome inferiority complex’.    

1935                            Biscuits                       When used for sleeping on these were three or four firm rectangular pads which when laid out made a mattress.

1938                            Whitewash                 A type of paint that is associated with cheaper buildings and can brush off on clothing.  Whitewash can be tinted.

                        and      Distemper                   A form of whitewash but water soluble and easily marked or discoloured.  Used on internal surfaces.       

1941                            School leaving certificate     1918 – 1951    The School Certificate Examination was usually taken at age 16. Graded as: Fail, Pass, Credit or Distinction, students had to gain six passes including English and mathematics to obtain a certificate. They were replaced by O levels which in turn were replaced by GCSE’s.  A ‘Higher’ was given at 18.

1947                            Carbon Paper             A sheet of impregnated paper which when placed between two sheets of typing paper produced a copy on the second sheet.  This was a purely mechanical process, the individual letters were struck against an inked ribbon leaving a mark on the upper sheet, the force carrying through the first sheet and repeating the process with the carbon sheet creating a blue copy onto the second sheet with less clarity.

1950                            Liverish                       Used to describe a disgruntled Captain, upset at being visited for Bob a Job.   A bad mood or slightly ill, as though having a disordered liver.

1945 – 1957                Query competition     Query as in question but probably too similar to queer as in homosexual.  The name of the linked competition the ‘Alert’ came to be used in its place, possibly as the word could no longer be denied by polite ignorance. Homosexuality was decriminalised in 1967, a step towards acceptance.

1947                            Infantile Paralysis      Polio.  There have been no domestically acquired cases of Polio in the UK since the mid 80’s following the introduction of a vaccine in the mid 1950’s. 

1950’s                          Perambulator                        ‘Polishing perambulators’ was a job a Cub was deemed able to do for Bob a Job.  Generally known as a pram, they were the precursor to modern baby buggies.

1952                            WVS                            Women’s Voluntary Service, WRVS from 1966 Women’s Royal Volunteer Service, from 2004 Royal Volunteering Service.

1966                            Thrift                           the old 9th law ‘A Scout is thrifty’ was altered to ‘A Scout makes good use of time and is careful of possessionsand property’ and the comment added that ‘The new Law 7 is more easily understood, we feel, than the old ninth law’.

1966                            Palaver                       originally a conference but coming to mean protracted debate without an outcome.  Used in Scouting as a term for a council but dropped at 1966 changes

1978                            Fantastic                     ‘’the details (of the Rally) appear to me a bit fantastic’        Here meaning ‘not a credible description’ or ‘not believable’ rather than ‘great!’                      Ken North 70 years commenting on the 1922 Rally


Smoking          How pipe smokers were perceived as opposed to cigarette smokers. (See Scouts and Smoking)


Many people now have no connection with the Christian calendar except where it has shaped the secular calendar.   The events below are added to fill any gaps. 

23rd Cambridge A J Covell’s album of exclusively Scouting photographs

                                    Palm Sunday              The Sunday before Easter which commemorates the triumphal entry of Jesus into Jerusalem. It was often selected for a scout church service.  Generally a date for a Cubs Own, but 1951 it was noted that for the past two years there had been a poor turnout and a meeting was not arranged.

                                    Whit Sunday              Whitsun           Whit Monday (day after) was a bank holiday until replaced in 1971 by the fixed spring bank holiday at the end of May.  It was sometimes selected for a scout church service or camps.

1933    55th Cambridge           Purchase of canteen for Whitsun camp         12/-    

1902 – 1958                 Empire Day                 1958 became British Commonwealth Day and in 1966 Commonwealth Day                              1912    5th Cambridge             ‘On Empire Day the troop marched past and saluted the flag with the school contingent of the OTC’.

1917 05 30 Empire Day; all elder children march to Market Place with Scouts & Guides; Mayor reads King’s proclamation Mike Petty Collection Cambridgeshire History Facebook

1937 to 1960’s            Empire Youth Sunday                       The “Empire Youth Movement” (later known as the “Commonwealth Youth Movement”) formed by Major Frederick James Ney, a “fervent imperialist” and a Canadian military man of English background who sought to solidify Britain’s relationship with Canada.                      Invites sent in 1943 (Groups make their own arrangements), 1944, 1946, 1947, 1948, 15 scouts attended 1949.  1950 It was hoped to send 50 and a colour party.  20 from four Troops attended and following the event District Meeting discussed the focus on the parade rather than the service.  They were also concerned that Pre Service Units should march separately from the Voluntary Youth organisations. 1951 Too close to St Georges Day, too late notice some did attend but District had decided not to do so.

1953       March had CCF at front and Boys Scouts at rear with other voluntary services (Red Cross, Boys Brigade etc) between. 

1957 Renamed Commonwealth Youth Sunday from 1957 it was held at Kings College in this Coronation year at Kings College Chapel, with c.500 attending in total.

Commonwealth Youth Sunday  1962       Organised by Cambridge Education Committee St Andrews Baptist Ch.  Service sheet no further details

1943                            Battle of Britain Sunday       Held to celebrate this event and continues today.  Miss BP attended service in Gt St Marys, 1944

1943                            Red Army Day Parade           The invitation was at short notice.  Events were held in London.

1945                            Victory Sunday Thanksgiving           at Great St Mary’s

1947                            United Nations Association Day Parade      To celebrate founding of UN in 1947

Pre metric systems

The names of the old pre-decimalisation coins persist in old works of literature, nursery rhymes, idioms, songs and proverbs. They are still very much a part of British culture. Each coin attracted its own name or names.

When small coins were subdivided the flexibility of the shilling was very useful. It was divisible by 2, 3, 4, and 6 and further with half pennies and farthings (quarter pennies) into 24 and 48 parts.  Even in 1967 some sweets were four for a penny (1d) although farthings were withdrawn in 1961.

Pounds, shillings and pence written:     L.s.d.      1/17/9½      17/9½      9½d

Twelve pence to the shilling, twenty shillings to the pound

The figure ₤1/1/- or multiples is often found.  It is a Guinea, not a coin but a traditional sum of 21 shillings.

Attempts to alter money into decimal equivalents generate approximations which mar the relative costs between items or increases.  Between 1932 and 1940 a scarf increased costs twice by 3d each time from 1/3 to 1/6 and 1/9.   The steps are significant and make no sense (tell no story) as 6.25, 7.5 and 8.75 pence.

The true cost is not worth by today’s standard but the proportion of excess money in a family budget at the time.  Excess money is that left after all necessary costs of living are removed.  Most people through the last century had less ‘excess money’ than now.

Length and weight are fixed measures then and now.  1lb weight was and is 434g.  Generally no translations are given as the steps in scale, or the reasons for them, become less clear.  Most items were given or purchased in round units, 5’6’’ and 1lb. not 1.675m or 434 g.

55th accounts 1935      1½ lbs. each of sugar of lead and alum for waterproofing tents

1941    16 st. of rosehips          Stone: 14 lbs to a stone

Pre standard nomenclature

55th accounts 1935      ‘1½ lbs. each of sugar of lead and alum for waterproofing tents’  Sugar of lead has many other names and alum has no one fixed chemical formulation.  Similarly Naphtha is a flammable mixture with no one recipe.  All such names should be treated with great caution. 


Yes, I know you know but not everybody does. I had to check both the first use of Inferiority complex and the difference between whitewash and distemper myself.

 And looking for them brings the realisation that the Scout organisation both nationally and locally was ahead of the field when considering issues of race and handicap.

JWR Archivist Mar 2019