Trench Fever reports on a seminar by Stefan Goebel on the post-war memorialisation of Coventry's bombing in 1940. Hence today's word for the day: ''coventrate''. It's a good example of a word or phrase coined in a mean-spirited way (in this case, by the Germans), but which ends up being adopted by those whom it was meant to spite - like ''big bang'' or ''queer''. By the end of the war, it was the Germans who were themselves being coventrated.

coventrate, v. (temporary.) To bomb intensively; to devastate sections of (a city) by concentrated bombing, such as that inflicted on Coventry, Warwickshire, in November 1940. So coventrating vbl. n.; coventration.
1940 Hutchinson's Pict. Hist. War 2 Oct.-26 Nov. 221 German bombers made prolonged mass attacks..on Coventry... And..they invented the verb 'to coventrate' to describe the indiscriminate mass murder of civilians. 1940 New Statesman 21 Dec. 647 The fact was that 'Coventrating' meant that the nerves and sinews and muscles of local government were wrenched and lacerated. 1942 L. E. O. CHARLTON Britain at War 22 Possibility of another 'coventration' of a manufacturing centre. 1944 H. HAWTON Night Bombing viii. 126 It was the Germans themselves who had coined so gloatingly the verb 'to coventrate'.

Source: OED. (Nice to see Charlton getting a guernsey!)

I doubt that the word was used much after 1945, though I would be interested to hear otherwise! Here is one example from that year, from a newspaper article about rugby union teams trying to get back on their feet after the war, which suggests that it was still then regarded as unfamiliar (as it is in quotes - so are all the OED cites, for that matter).

In the Midlands, too, Coventry not only refused to be ''Coventrated'' by the enemy; they retained most of their veterans and, both at home and abroad - meaning London - did much to maintain the old standards of Midland forward play.

Source: The Times, 18 September 1945, p. 8.

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6 thoughts on “Coventrate

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  2. Don


    A couple of years ago now I met online a woman who, as a girl, had known my Uncle during his Bomber Command training days at Bruntingthorpe. This was late '42 to early '43. She was 10 then, daughter in a family that befriended a group (3) of trainee airmen who had become close mates. They all went operational in May '43, two lost their lives almost immediatley and my Uncle completed 12 ops before his demise over Peenemunde in August. They had literally vanished from the sight of this family who had wondered about their fates for decades.

    During our correspondence, I mentioned in passing that I had (have) the utmost respect for all involved in the CBO, saying that I view Luftwaffe and RAF/USAAF crew on equal terms ... young men doing their bit for their country. I said something about the Nachjagd crerws seeing their cities burn and doing their bit to shoot down the "terror fleigers".

    Well! Talk about a raw nerve. I didn't know that she and her family had been "bombed out" of Coventry before relocating to Bruntingthorpe. I got a very straight reply: "we wanted to bomb them all to hell".

    OK, roger that. D

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    Yes, that's straight and to the point! But I wonder if she would acknowledge that British public opinion at the time was divided on this point; if anything, those who been Blitzed were somewhat less likely to support reprisal bombing.

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