tank verb earlier than 1930

Bryn provided evidence from 1918.

Military tanks were a major invention of the First World War: developed during 1915 and first put into commission in 1916, they immediately captured the interest of the public, and tank entered into numerous compounds and phrases. However, we have not found any WWI-era evidence of the verb tank in a military sense (e.g. ‘to attack with a tank’ or ‘to travel by means of a tank or tanks’). The first quotations we have at present are from the 1930s (the first a figurative use):

Hymie scrams right out of town with him and they start to tank the country, flinging out the old challenge to any father of fourteen at catch weights.

1930 Amer. Mercury Dec., p.  417/2

There was an old Hoover Who lived in a shoe. He had so many vet’rans, He didn’t know what to do. So he gassed them and tanked them, And burnt up their beds.

1932 B. E. F. News 17 Sept., p. 5/1

The city crowds cheered, the armies went tanking forward.

1939 H. G. Wells Holy Terror iii. ii. p. 271

Although there is plenty of earlier evidence for the verb tank relating to the noun meaning ‘large receptacle’, we find it surprising that there are no earlier uses of the verb relating to the military vehicle. Is there evidence we haven’t found yet?

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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 10.34
Comments: 3

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  • Bryn_Wordhunt

    Cecil Longley [as “Wagger”] (1916) Battery Flashes, London, John Murray, `page 172’‘, has the passage:

    Also, if we are spending five million pounds a day on the war and every day makes it harder for the Germans, why waste five millions and slacken the awful “tanking” they are getting ?

    • Bryn_Wordhunt

      In Dorward, W.T. (1918) “Why The Kaiser Abdicated”, The Great Lakes Recruit: a pictorial naval magazine, December 1918, Volume IV No.12, pages 77-78, a passage on page 76 [paragraph 2] goes:

      Enemy cannon had roared; swords crossed swords; air craft had aired; tanks had tanked; Yanks had yanked; cavalrymen had galloped furiously onward; infantrymen had made gallant pushes against the Huns, and last, but not least, the great long arm of the American navy had almost reached the door-step of the Kaiser.

  • Gregg

    If you do a search on the terms tank and gun in Google Books, and restrict the publication date to 1918, you will see several references to tanks in a military context, including a manual on anti-tank defences.