One notable feature of the vocabulary of the First World War is the number of (often offensive) terms coined for soldiers of different nationalities. One of these is Eyetie (spelled in various ways, including Iti and Eyety) meaning ‘Italian’. Eyetalian was already in use in the 19th century, but the abbreviated form Eyetie appears to have been a WWI coinage. The earliest evidence we have found so far is:
Our army in Italy always spoke of the Italians as the ‘Itis’ (pronounced ‘Eye-ties’).
1919 Athenæum 22 Aug., p. 791/2
This indicates that the term was used during the war; is there any earlier written evidence?
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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 30 January 2014 16.35