demob noun & verb earlier than 1919

Fred Shapiro and Hugo provided evidence from earlier dates in 1919.

The term demobilization, referring to the release of troops from military service at the end of a war, has been in use since the 19th century, but the abbreviated form demob seems to have been used only since the end of the First World War. The first quotations we have for the noun and verb respectively are:

Cambridge graduate, age 38, married elig. for demob., now home, can invest up to £500 in good class Practice or Partnership.

1919 Brit. Med. Jrnl. 28 June, p. 38/3

He’s demobbed, and has gone into the City. Horribly rich already, and will now, of course, make another pile.

1919 Mary Augusta Ward Cousin Philip iii. p. 52

Is there any earlier evidence for demob from the end of the war, when troops were first demobilized?

* * *

To commemorate the centenary of the start of the First World War (1914–18), the OED is revising a set of vocabulary related to or coined during the war. Part of the revision process involves searching for earlier or additional evidence, and for this we need your help. Our first quotations are often from newspapers and magazines, and we know that there may well be earlier evidence in less-easily-accessible sources such as letters, diaries, and government records, many of which are now being made available in digital form for the first time.

Posted by OED_Editor on 29 January 2014 8.44
Comments: 11

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  • hugooooo

    A New Zealand newspaper has “demob” in a 31 May 1919 post-war advert:

    WANTED to Buy, 4-rd. House, under returned soldiers scheme. Reply, stating conveniences. Apply Demob, Evening Post.

    Page 1 Advertisements Column 7, Evening Post, Volume XCVII, Issue 127, 31 May 1919, Page 1

    • hugooooo

      A similar use of the noun can be found in an Australian newspaper from 30 April 1919, after an in memoriam notice:

      -(Inserted by his loving parents, and sister and brothers Mr and Mrs C J Dunster, Pearl, Harry, Hubert, Tom (demob.), Stan and Arthur.)

      The Argus (Melbourne, Vic. : 1848 – 1957), Wednesday 30 April 1919

      • hugooooo

        Further antedatings can be found in the classified ads of The Manchester Guardian in 1919, there were lots of demobbed soldiers looking for work who used the noun *demob* in their ad, but the earliest I found is from 8 Jan 1919:

        The Demobs.
        Two more parties of London soldiers took matters into their own hands today in what is rapidly and disastrously becoming the ordinary course of things.

        ProQuest Historical Newspapers: America and the Blockade, The Manchester Guardian (1901-1959) [Manchester (UK)] 08 Jan 1919: 4.
        Expand panel

  • hugooooo

    I’m not sure when in 1919 Mary Augusta Ward’s Cousin Philip was pusblished, but I found some other 1919 examples of the verb in New Zealand newspapers, the earliest 27 May 1919:


    —”Demobbed” and “Cushy.” We have recently had a good instance of the birth of a word before the public eye in “demobbed,” its mother being the ordinary official term “demobilised, and its father some ingenious Tommy or fertile-brained newspaper man. “Demobbed” has come before us often, of late as a thriving youngster, but is not likely to survive, perhaps, as long as the favourite word “couche,” or “cushy,” from the French word “coacher,” to lie down, repose, or have an easy tune generally—very popular among our hard-working and hard-fighting soldiers while they were enduring the hardships of the trenches in France and Flanders.

    —F. T. H. T.

    ROMANCE OF COMMON WORDS, Otago Daily Times, Issue 17635, 27 May 1919, Page 6

    Some others:

    * BLACKMAILING ‘DEMOBBED’ OFFICERS., Wanganui Chronicle, Volume LXVI, Issue 17598, 17 June 1919, Page 8

    * “DEMOBBING” THE HORSES, Dominion, Volume 12, Issue 228, 20 June 1919, Page 7

    • hugooooo

      A couple of slightly earlier verbs found in Australian newspapers. First, 24 May 1919:

      WHAT is to become of the 500,000 cats which the army conscripted during the war?

      The World’s News (Sydney, NSW : 1901 – 1955), Saturday 24 May 1919

      Second, 27 May 1919:

      He was a ”demobbed’ soldier: and the task that now confronted him was, he found, no easy one.

      — Augustus Muir in “London Opinion.”

      Moree Gwydir Examiner and General Advertiser (NSW : 1901 – 1940), Tuesday 27 May 1919

      • hugooooo

        Further antedatings of the verb in The Manchester Guardian, the earliest from 6 Mar 1919:

        But “leave” is not everyday life. “Leave” is a thing apart and full of happy and precious memories. A demobbed household has to get back to everyday affairs.

        When the “leave” period of the demobbed state was on we were all eager to take the place of the devoted batman who has vanished with Daddy’s uniform.

        But we are glad he is demobbed!
        N. GODFREY

        ProQuest: HOME AGAIN, The Manchester Guardian (1901-1959) [Manchester (UK)] 06 Mar 1919: 12.

        • hugooooo

          Not the earliest, but here’s another early one from a 21 March 1919 American newspaper. It’s a cartoon from London Opinion, and it’s possible it may have been first published in the UK earlier than 6th March 1919.


          –London Opinion.

          Jones–I wonder if I can get back into the army on compassionate grounds?

          Evening public ledger, March 21, 1919, Night Extra Closing Stock Prices, Image 27

          Interesting this is commenting on the same aspects of demobbing, the homecoming and returning to domestic life, as N. Godfrey’s 6 March 1919 essay.

  • Bryn_Wordhunt

    In the Situations Vacant column of The Times, 16th May 1919 [via Times Digital Archive]:

    A Demobbed soldier (40), single, seeks situation on farm …

  • Guest

    Just ever so slightly earlier than the above examples, The State newspaper of Columbia, South Carolina, on 19 February 1919, page 4, “The State’s Survey” (a humorous news roundup), includes this punning use of the word:

    “The English soldiers have apparently decided that as long as the army is not demobilized the War office will not be demobbed.”

    • Fred

      Here’s an earlier example of the verb usage, from Lines of Fire: No. 1 R.G.A. Officer Cadet School, Troubridge, Feb. 1, 1919 (ProQuest Trench Journals and Unit Magazines of the First World War): “Albert got his papers through at last. He was “de-mobbed,” and his thoughts at once flew to London — home — and night clubs.” This appears in an article with the dateline January 20th, 1919. — Fred R. Shapiro