If you’re one of the unfortunate people still far from home – wherever that may be – due to COVID-19 border closures, you could be grappling with the scourge of homesickness.
Homesickness can do strange things to us. It can make us idealise the country, society or even the times we left behind. We look back on the old days with nostalgia and longing. Challenging events like war and pandemics prompt us to find new words to help us cope with the unexpected.
Blighty, a nickname for Britain, or more specifically England, originated during the Victorian rule of India. The word comes from the Urdu word vilayati which means foreign, British, English or European. A mishearing changed the v to a b, and bilayati became Blighty (Oxford English Dictionary).
Blighty became a common term for European visitors to India during the 1800s. At that time, the term Blighty was also used to describe British imports to India, such as soda water. Although the term was used by troops during the Boer War, we now usually associate Blighty with the trenches of World War I.
Longing for home and for a time when the horror of war was the furthest thing on anyone’s mind, soldiers would affectionately refer to England as ‘dear old Blighty’. The slang term Blighty also described an injury that was not life threatening but was bad enough to get a soldier sent home. Vesta Tilley, a famous English music hall entertainer who visited hospitals and factories to fundraise for the war, used the term in her 1916 song ‘I’m Glad I’ve Got a Bit of a Blighty One’.
Words have the power to make us feel anxious or calm, afraid or strong. They can even help make an unbearable feeling, like homesickness, a little easier to talk about. Whether you are longing for Blighty or just for things to return to normal, we can all try to find words of comfort. And if we can’t find a word to fit, we can always create a new one.
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Oxford English Dictionary