Monday, November 19, 2012

On Background: Hector Kingsley Landships

So you tend to learn very interesting things about history when you are researching a steampunk book.

One of the things I was researching recently was the introduction of tanks during World War One. The reason for that is the tank gets invented a lot earlier in Hector's world than it does in ours. The Distillation kind of speeds up or alters a lot of scientific advancement, so the Germans (unified much earlier than in reality, and allied with the British during a fight with France) roll out their version of the tank during the 1860s or so.

Except they don't call it a tank. They call it a landship.

You see, the reason that type of mechanized war machine gets called a tank in the first place is due to some interesting stories behind its development. The British who were working on the device didn't want the enemy to know what they were making. After all, tanks had the potential to finally break the terrible stalemate of trench warfare; they didn't want to tip their hand too early. So they mislabeled the product of the Landship Committee as a 'water carrier', supposedly destined for Russia or the Middle East.

At which point they noticed that the acronym for water carrier is WC--otherwise known as the British abbreviation for toilet (water closet).

Probably knowing that soldiers would come up with enough off-color names for the things on their own, the British then decided to change the name to 'water tank'. Eventually the name was shortened to tank, giving the weapon of modern warfare its distinctive nomenclature. Not every language uses it of course, but English typically refers to the vehicles by that name consistently.

Unfortunately for me, in Hector's world that particular series of events would not have happened. Tanks would have come to the British through their German allies, so they wouldn't have had to resort to disguising the invention themselves. As a result, they probably would have stuck with the original term for the device--a landship. Interesting what changes a little tweak in history could create, isn't it?