‘Having a Chat’

May 21st, 2015

Everybody knows and uses the phrase; ‘come and have a chat’, but would it be so popular if more people knew that it was a nickname for a body louse?

Soldiers in the Napoleonic Wars referred to body lice as ‘chats’ and so did the men in the First World War. Chats were rife in the trenches, congregating in the seams of uniforms, they bred in huge numbers, causing great discomfort.

When they got the chance men attempted to de-louse their uniforms, they sat in groups talking as they did so and were said to be ‘chatting’. Now the term has been adopted to describe talking, rather than hunting for lice!

What was not known at the time was that lice carried trench fever, an infectious disease which caused headaches, aches and pains, fever and skin sores. It is caused by bacteria carried by the lice that spread it from man to man. Not usually serious, it was not pleasant, and did re-occur over a period of weeks.

Doctors were baffled and it was not until 1918 that it was realised that droppings from body lice was the cause of the problem.