Definition of poilu in English:



informal, historical
  • An infantry soldier in the French army, especially one who fought in the First World War.

    • ‘In contrast with the pre-1914 view that the French soldier, with his singular élan, performed best in the attack, they took the doggedness of the poilu in defence at Verdun in 1916 as their guide.’
    • ‘The French poilus accepted and respected that American icon.’
    • ‘The film even showed Porter in the uniform of the French Foreign Legion, as gritty and gung-ho as a poilu.’
    • ‘It coincides with a large number of books and exhibitions about the poilus, as French soldiers in the great war were known.’
    • ‘This was not the destination of Nevinson's poilus - over 1,000,000 of whom would become casualties in the first five months of the war alone.’
    private soldier, common soldier
    View synonyms


French, literally ‘hairy’, by extension ‘brave’, whiskers being associated with virility.