"Blighty" is a British English slang term for Great Britain, or often specifically England. Though it was used throughout the 1800s in the Indian subcontinent to mean an English or British visitor, it was first used during the Boer War in the specific meaning of homeland for the English or British, and it was not until World War I that use of the term became widespread.
The word derives from the Urdu word Viletī, (older sources mention a regional Hindustani language but the use of b replacing v is found in Bengali) meaning 'foreign', which more specifically came to mean 'European', and 'British; English' during the time of the British Raj. The Bengali word is a loan of Indian Persian vilāyatī (ولایاتی), from vilāyat (ولایت) meaning 'Iran' and later 'Europe' or 'Britain', ultimately from Arabic wilāyah ولاية meaning 'state, province'.
The term subsequently gained an ironic connotation in its closeness to the English word “blight” meaning epidemic. It’s an example of typical post imperial British self effacement.
Blighty is commonly used as a term of endearment by the expatriate British community or those on holiday to refer to home. In Hobson-Jobson, an 1886 historical dictionary of Anglo-Indian words, Henry Yule and Arthur Coke Burnell explained that the word came to be used in British India for several things the British had brought into the country, such as the tomato and soda water.
During the First World War, "Dear Old Blighty" was a common sentimental reference, suggesting a longing for home by soldiers in the trenches. The term was particularly used by World War I poets such as Wilfred Owen and Siegfried Sassoon. During that war, a "Blighty wound" – a wound serious enough to require recuperation away from the trenches, but not serious enough to kill or maim the victim – was hoped for by many, and sometimes self-inflicted.
An early example of the usage of a derivative of the Arabic wilāyah being used to refer to Britain is after diplomat I'tisam-ud-Din returned from Britain back to the Mughal Empire. The locals nicknamed him as 'Bilayet Munshi', due to him being the first South Asian (c. 1765) to travel to what was known as the Bilayet.
Blighty, a humorous weekly magazine, was issued free to British troops during the First World War. It contained short stories, poems, cartoons, paintings and drawings, with contributions from men on active service. It was distributed by the War Office, the Admiralty and the Red Cross, and subsidised through donations and sales to the general public. The magazine was revived in 1939 and continued until 1958.
In his First World War autobiography Good-Bye to All That (1929), the writer Robert Graves attributes the term "Blitey" to the Hindustani word for "home". He writes: "The men are pessimistic but cheerful. They all talk about getting a 'cushy' one to send them back to 'Blitey'."
The music hall artiste Vesta Tilley had a hit in 1916 with the song "I'm Glad I've Got a Bit of a Blighty One" (1916), in which she played a soldier delighted to have been wounded and in hospital. "When I think about my dugout," she sang, "where I dare not stick my mug out... I'm glad I've got a bit of a blighty one". Another music hall hit was "Take Me Back to Dear Old Blighty" (1917). The song is sung by Cicely Courtneidge in the 1962 film The L-Shaped Room. The term was also referenced in the song "All American Alien Boy" by Ian Hunter ("I'm just a whitey from Blighty"), from the 1976 album of the same name. Folksinger Ian Robb's album Rose and Crown features a topical parody of the traditional song "Maggie May", about the Falklands War. The song contains the lines: "When I get back to Blighty, I'll give thanks to The Almighty / Whether Maggie's little war is lost or won".
UKTV operated a digital television channel called Blighty that opened in February 2009 and closed on 5 July 2013. The subscription channel, which concentrated on British-made programming, was replaced by a Freeview channel called Drama.
- "Why Do the Brits Call the U.K. 'Blighty'?", on Anglophenia, BBC America. Accessed 30 December 2020.
- "Blighty" in the Oxford English Dictionary, UK English. Accessed 27 February 2016.
- "Blighty" in the Collins English Dictionary – Complete and Unabridged, 12th Edition 2014; and in Random House Kernerman Webster's College Dictionary, 2010. Accessed 27 February 2016.
- Wild, Kate (21 February 2014). "The English expressions coined in WW1". BBC Magazine. Retrieved 22 February 2014.
After the introduction of conscription in 1916, the distinction between soldiers and civilians became less clear, and vocabulary passed readily from one group to the other. This is the case with ... Blighty. The Urdu words vilayat ("inhabited country", specifically Europe or Britain) and vilayati ("foreign", or "British, English, European") were borrowed by the British in the 19th Century.... But it was the regional variant bilayati - rendered as Blighty in English and meaning "Britain, England, home" - which really took off in Britain. Although it was first used during the Boer war, it was not until WW1 that Blighty spread widely and developed new meanings.
- Entry for Blighty. World Wide Words.
- "ولاية" in F. Steingass, A Comprehensive Persian-English Dictionary, 1892, p. 1480.
- "Blighty Wounds". Firstworldwar.com. Retrieved 26 March 2007.
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- "Men's magazines: an A–Z - Blighty". Magforum.com. Archived from the original on 11 November 2013. Retrieved 20 March 2014.
- Good-Bye to All That. Penguin Modern Classics. 1957 . p. 94.
- "Vintage Audio - Take Me Back to Dear Old Blighty". First World War.com. 22 August 2009. Retrieved 27 June 2013.
- "Filming Locations for Bryan Forbes' Sixties classic The L-Shaped Room in Notting Hill". Movie-locations.com. Retrieved 9 June 2018.
- "Lyrics to "All American Alien Boy" (single version)". Hunter-mott.com. Retrieved 9 June 2018.
- White, Peter (24 June 2013). "Blighty closes as Drama opens for UKTV". www.broadcastnow.co.uk. Media Business Insight Limited. Retrieved 20 March 2014.