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Charlie Foxtrot.
March 31, 2007 1:47 PM   Subscribe

Embrace the Suck. Intensive military activity creates an incubator for slang. By bringing together people from geographically diverse backgrounds, putting them into stressful circumstances, and teaching them a new language of jargon and acronym, the armed forces create fertile ground for new idioms - many of which return home in civvies when the conflicts are over. In the Civil War, World War I and World War II, in Korea and in Viet Nam, servicepeople created or popularized now-familiar terms like shoddy, hotshot, cooties, tailspin, fleabag, face time, joystick, SNAFU, FUBAR, flaky, gung ho, no sweat, flame-out, and many, many others. Now, the GWOT brings us a new generation of 'milspeak'. Military columnist Austin Bay has published an early collection of neologisms from Gulf War II. On NPR, Bay explains what The Suck is, how to identify a fobbit, and why Marines look down on the attitude of Semper I.
posted by Miko (66 comments total) 48 users marked this as a favorite

 
Viet Nam, servicepeople created or popularized now-familiar terms like ..... flame-out,

I thought languagehat created that.
posted by jonmc at 1:53 PM on March 31, 2007


Heh. I thought, "Echelons above reality" was pretty great.
posted by Richard Daly at 1:54 PM on March 31, 2007


Jenna Jameson's next video: "Embrace The Suck".
Good post.
Wonder how soon these neologisms will show up "on the street".
posted by Dizzy at 1:55 PM on March 31, 2007


I wonder if it should be "teh suck" instead...don't know how keyed in the guys in Iraq are to that little meme.

I liked "Nut Guard" myself. Also "Geardo". Hee.
posted by emjaybee at 2:04 PM on March 31, 2007


An Army Airborne friend told me my favorite bit of milspeak: "come whistlin'," used to describe a guy whose parachute didn't open.
posted by I Am Not a Lobster at 2:22 PM on March 31, 2007


This one's my favorite:

Dome of obedience: Slang for a military helmet. Also called a "brain bucket" or "skid lid."

I'd have to say though that "echelons above reality" is pretty accurate even outside of the military. I'm pretty sure that even in my humble bookstore, the management exists at least one echelon above reality.
posted by grapefruitmoon at 2:29 PM on March 31, 2007


I like "Semper Gumby", though I'm sure I heard it first during or soon after Vietnam.

And BOHICA (Bend Over, Here It Comes Again) is going to become an acronym classic.
posted by wendell at 2:47 PM on March 31, 2007


Geronimo!
posted by ericb at 2:55 PM on March 31, 2007


During the Civil War the guy who inspired "sideburns" was replaced by the guy who inspired "hookers."
posted by kirkaracha at 2:59 PM on March 31, 2007


GWOT = George W, Official Turd. Or, at least so I thought.
posted by edgeways at 3:01 PM on March 31, 2007


Wendell, google USAFA slang. There's more where bohica came from.
posted by konolia at 3:02 PM on March 31, 2007


Geronimo converted to Christianity. Huh.
posted by Burhanistan at 3:03 PM on March 31, 2007


And if you believe the webcomic "Schlock Mercenary", the term Charlie Foxtrot will still be in use in the 32nd Century. (Warning: This webpage containing the terms "charlie foxtrot" and "hose the room" also includes Google Adsense that frequently - and appropriately - serves up ads for Anne Coulter.)
posted by wendell at 3:05 PM on March 31, 2007


No way did "embrace the suck" get invented during during the GWOT (which you seem to be confusing with Operation Iraqi Freedom, btw). I definitely heard this phrase before 2003. Probably as long ago as 1997 or so on Slashdot.
posted by DU at 3:05 PM on March 31, 2007


Semper Gumby: Another play on Semper Fi. Means "always flexible."

But Gumbies were notoriously inflexible. My brain hurts.
posted by jack_mo at 3:09 PM on March 31, 2007


Those are British Gumbies, not All-American Gumbies.
posted by wendell at 3:13 PM on March 31, 2007


I know people used the term "The Suck" in the movie jarhead
posted by delmoi at 3:15 PM on March 31, 2007


And they call us snarkmeisters:

Batman: Any soldier (most often a young lieutenant) who has an assortment of gadgets and gizmos carried “just in case.”

LPCs: Leather Personnel Carriers. Better known as boots.

Baboon ass: Nickname for corned beef, based on color and flavor.
posted by rob511 at 3:15 PM on March 31, 2007


Actually "Welcome to the Suck" was a tagline for the movie.
posted by delmoi at 3:17 PM on March 31, 2007


I'm really not confusing anything, DU. I drew that from the material I linked - it's presented as a slangy way that soldiers in the Iraq conflict refer to the particular CF they're engaged in.

I knew I'd be taking a little bit of a risk in posting something this broad. Word origins and folk culture are personally fascinating to me, so I knew that in most cases, you can't actually point to a single specific point of origin for military slang. A lot of the derivations in some of the links I gave are apocryphal; I didn't post them to assert their truth, but in a more descriptive spirit. This is how they're used. A lot of slang was already in existence before the campaigns mentioned, and just ended up being broadly popularized at that time by the people who ended up working together and then farming back out to many hometowns to spread the memes further. So no, I'm not saying that the terms originated with these wars.

To research the origin and first use of each term would be a project of such immensity that it would require an entire research team, and would end up being as comprehensive as something like the Dictionary of American Regional English. It's beyond the scope of this post. So I skirted the issue of first use, and I also kind of ignored other resources that focused on military slang that was UK-English, Australian, or Canadian in favor of US-centric sources.
posted by Miko at 3:20 PM on March 31, 2007


Oz: Australia. Hence "Ozzies" — Australians.

Those crazy soldiers! This'll one will never catch on!
posted by John Shaft at 3:36 PM on March 31, 2007 [1 favorite]


This is a great post. Thanks.
posted by anotherpanacea at 3:47 PM on March 31, 2007


I've seen it on lists of medical jargon, but I've also heard a couple of military folk use the phrase DRT.

This is usually used in place of DOA (dead on arrival) and is instead used to denote someone who is Dead Right There.
posted by quin at 3:58 PM on March 31, 2007 [1 favorite]


Could someone explain what my friend who came back from army basic training meant when he said "I'd fuck her like a first cousin?"
posted by BrotherCaine at 4:33 PM on March 31, 2007


I want to compliment Miko for correctly spelling FUBAR. I always annoys me a little to see foobar, although that's useful as an indicator of someone who adopts jargon without knowing what it means.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 4:51 PM on March 31, 2007


BrotherC, I doubt that any explainer of that would survive the Wrath of the Hillbillies [NOT GOMERIST].
posted by Kirth Gerson at 4:53 PM on March 31, 2007


While not strictly jargon, I always relished the emphatic weariness (oft heard in the motorpool after a particularly grueling field op) of "That fucking fucker. Is. Fucking. Fucked.

Poetry, I say.
posted by Haruspex at 4:57 PM on March 31, 2007


Some of the entries in his Los Angeles Times article are suspiciously similar to entries here. I mean, the definitions are almost word for word. The GlobalSecurity.org site included in the post links there, too, so you got to wonder how much of this is just shit ripped off from elsewhere.
posted by TurkeyMustard at 5:31 PM on March 31, 2007


I always annoys me a little to see foobar, although that's useful as an indicator of someone who adopts jargon without knowing what it means.

Or it could be folks using old hacker jargon, riffing on both the military FUBAR and hackish use of "foo", "bar", etc. as variables ...
posted by Smilla's Sense of Snark at 5:33 PM on March 31, 2007


Oh golly, Miko. Thanks!
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 5:47 PM on March 31, 2007


I want to compliment Miko for correctly spelling FUBAR. I always annoys me a little to see foobar, although that's useful as an indicator of someone who adopts jargon without knowing what it means.

As Smilla mentioned, "foobar" may not be incorrect depending on the context.
posted by delmoi at 5:50 PM on March 31, 2007


I think that I still sound a bit like that at times. Kinda hard to get rid of the shit that was hammered into your head for 4 years. Try giving a phonetic spelling of your name to a person/customer over the phone and I bet you or I sound like a total military geek!
posted by winks007 at 6:01 PM on March 31, 2007


Is there one mefite (who was in the military) who hasn't used, lima-charlie since getting your DD214?
posted by winks007 at 6:05 PM on March 31, 2007


Slammin', top-notch, A-1, breakthrough post, Miko!
posted by flapjax at midnite at 6:52 PM on March 31, 2007


...useful as an indicator of someone who adopts jargon without knowing what it means.

When military jargon and expressions enter into the popular vernacular, what they "mean" is more often than not distinct from what the expresions originally meant for those first users in the military. Naturally enough.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 7:06 PM on March 31, 2007


Embrace the Suck.

Embracing the suck, SIR!

Sir, my suck is embraced!
posted by eriko at 7:08 PM on March 31, 2007


This reminds me of that early 90s Seattlespeak article by the NY Times where the woman from SubPop just made up terms on the spot.
posted by jimmythefish at 7:32 PM on March 31, 2007


One of my favorites from a Bill Mauldin "Willie and Joe" cartoon:

"We calls 'em garritroopers. They's too far forward to wear neckties and too far to the rear to get shot."
posted by pax digita at 7:43 PM on March 31, 2007


Coming back to this thread, I used to work at UPS (boy did that job Embrace the Suck) and those folks - lots of military vets - had all kinds of creative profanity, but the best I ever heard was a simple emphatic, "We are surely fucked now."
posted by Richard Daly at 7:50 PM on March 31, 2007


... Viet Nam, servicepeople created or popularized now-familiar terms like ..... flame-out,...

I'd swear I read "flame-out" in Dan Gallery's Stand By-y-y to Start Engines, naval-aviation lore dating back to the advent of jet-powered aircraft operating from aircraft carriers -- roughly Korean "Conflict" -era.

Speaking of which, this post definitely is deficient in Navyspeak, so here you go: I bow to the inevitable Wikipedia entry but hope you'll also read its discussion page.
posted by pax digita at 7:52 PM on March 31, 2007


Embracing the suck, SIR!

Canonical response: "Who you calling 'sir'? I work for a living."

And winks007, that is so, so true about spelling my name over the phone.
posted by adamgreenfield at 8:18 PM on March 31, 2007


Awesome post. I was in the infantry, and used POG often, though I never knew how to spell it or what it was an acronym for. I sure knew the meaning, though.
posted by procrastination at 8:21 PM on March 31, 2007


Wonder how soon these neologisms will show up "on the street".
posted by Dizzy at 4:55 PM on March 31


I've heard "embrace the suck" at work more times than I can count. I suspect it was by way of tv.
posted by Pastabagel at 8:35 PM on March 31, 2007


Here are a few more:

Cowboy Up - getting all your gear on, primarily weapon and ammo and checking it, normally said in preparation to going on a patrol "OK, ever'one cowboy up and let's get moving"

Mission Creep - the unconsious adjusting of one's work schedule, working longer hours and not being aware of it as you spend more time on deployment.

Alphabet Boys - General term for people who work for agencies that are known primarily by letters only. Also known as OGA (Other Government Agency).
posted by Dagobert at 9:09 PM on March 31, 2007 [1 favorite]


ever since high school german, i figured fubar was related to furchtbar, a german word meaning "terrible". the "cht" is soft, so it comes out more like "furrtbar", and dropping the "t" is just a short step away. etymologically, made more sense than "fucked up beyond all recognition" which always seemed like a major backronym. how often did people ever say "oh, dude, this is fucked up, like, beyond ALL recognition, right?" "this is fucked up", yes, but "beyond all recognition" is just not a common phrase/cliche/figure of speech. i've just never come across it in the wild...only in the sense of explaining/alluding to "fubar".

for the same reason, i wouldn't be surprised if "bohica" is a corruption of a word in another language.
posted by paul_smatatoes at 9:16 PM on March 31, 2007 [3 favorites]


Also, let us not for get a variant of FUBAR; JANFU

Joint-Army-Navy-F*ck-Up.
posted by Dagobert at 10:37 PM on March 31, 2007


KAO-FPP. Kick Ass Outstanding FPP, Miko.
posted by three blind mice at 10:54 PM on March 31, 2007


Well if we are going to call up JANFU, I need to bring props to Blue Thunder's JAFO

Just Another Fucking Frustrated Observator.

It may not be milspec argot. But it should be.
posted by quin at 10:55 PM on March 31, 2007


I use "mission creep" to describe those moments when I'm standing at a urinal, halfway done, and I realize I'd better switch gears and hit the stall for a sit-down.
posted by breezeway at 11:01 PM on March 31, 2007 [1 favorite]


Try giving a phonetic spelling of your name to a person/customer over the phone and I bet you or I sound like a total military geek!

I work in a call centre and use the phonetic alphabet to spell things out, and I'm often asked if I was ever in the military.
posted by VirtualWolf at 11:22 PM on March 31, 2007


Oz: Australia. Hence "Ozzies" — Australians.

I always thought it was Aussies - pronounced "Ozzies" - hence Oz.

???

Loved the Civil War link. How many are still used today? Every 3rd one practically.

Conniption, Blowhard, Greenbacks, Skedaddle, Bread Basket.

Who would have thought "forage" was originally a slang term?
posted by uncanny hengeman at 11:50 PM on March 31, 2007


I always thought it was Aussies - pronounced "Ozzies" - hence Oz.

Absolutely correct.
posted by kisch mokusch at 1:13 AM on April 1, 2007


Military slang is cool but the really sneaky shit is pundit slang. The next six months will be critical.
posted by srboisvert at 1:38 AM on April 1, 2007


Apropos of That fucking fucker. Is. Fucking. Fucked.

I like British civil service usage: We're all fucked. I'm fucked. You're fucked. The whole department is fucked. It's the biggest cock-up ever and we're all completely fucked.

I know it's topic creep, but I can't get enough of it.
posted by imperium at 3:11 AM on April 1, 2007 [1 favorite]


paul_smatatoes: I did a quick search on "German +fubar +fuchtbar" and got this and this. The "beyond all recognition" story could certainly be an example of false etymology. Although a lot of the cleverest acronyms have false etymologies associated with them, the process of how they become American slang, the context in which they get used, and the evolution of the origin stories are still as interesting to me as discovering the actual origin (which sometimes is impossible).

Glad everyone enjoyed this.
posted by Miko at 9:26 AM on April 1, 2007


Somebody once told me "I read you Lumpy Chicken.." Loved it. Still use it.
posted by atchafalaya at 10:14 AM on April 1, 2007


I don't know if it's made it to the US yet, but there's been a very fine series on the BBC called Between The Lines - an updated Yes Minister for the NuLab days. That has some exemplary swearing, one of my favourites being a response to someone knocking on an office door: "Come the fuck in or fuck the fuck off".

Meanwhile, no discussion of slang can be complete without a tip of the titfer to Eric Partridge, a New Zealander who was if not the first lexicographer of slang, certainly the first populariser of the study.

In 1945, he published his "Dictionary of RAF Slang", which includes such joys as gremlins, bumf, gen, snog and wizard prangs. In his introduction, he said:

"In the Services, the men live - or should live - a more exciting life; they deal with equipment and various weapons; do things they've never done before - and pretend they never want to again; many of them visit strange countries; many become engaged in a service that is actually instead of nominally active; all of them mingle in such a companionship as they have never had before they enlisted and will never again have, once they quit the Service. Such conditions inevitably lead to a rejuvenation of language - to vividness - to picturesqueness - to vigour; language becomes youthful, energetic, adventurous. And slang is the easiest way to achieve those ends."

Or in other words - "Bunch of monkeys on the ceiling, sir! Grab your egg and fours, and get the bacon delivered!"
posted by Devonian at 11:14 AM on April 1, 2007


One of my favorites; "They look like three monkey trying ta fuck a football."
posted by snsranch at 4:47 PM on April 1, 2007


It bothers me somewhat that the Navy slang had BOCOD in there, but "love cookie" was nowhere to be found. I guess that particular prank's a little to homoerotic or something.
posted by pax digita at 5:28 PM on April 1, 2007


Excellent post (twentyfourthed, by now?), thanks!
posted by LanTao at 5:36 PM on April 1, 2007


Skedaddle. Probably not true, but still awesome if you're a big enough Classics geek.
posted by nebulawindphone at 8:01 PM on April 1, 2007


Outstanding post Miko. Lots of food for thought.

Embrace the suck, sounds like a Buddhist concept. Either that or an old hooker's advice to a n00b. Always loved the different jargons, lingos, patois. It seems these days pogues are soldiers too. Milspeak for narcissist= Semper I.

Because the military emphasises hierarchy I wonder if there is a milspeak acrolect and a basilect? Is milspeak a type of jargon or code-switching? Or both, jargon code?

What fun the Verbotomy site would get up to with milspeak. And then I remembered what George Orwell wrote in his fantastic (and for me life-changing) essay, Politics and the English Language, discussing, among other things, how military euphemisms or neologisms cover up the reality, the atrocities of war. Like the term pacification meaning slaughter. Orwell was brilliant illuminating doublespeak in his 1984. I always thought the milspeak -or was it newspeak?- euphemism 'ethnic cleansing' for genocide particularly despicable when used during the recent war in the former Yugoslavia.

Milspeak fills me with mixed emotions with its dark humor and camaraderie of death.
posted by nickyskye at 9:42 PM on April 1, 2007


I wonder if it should be "teh suck" instead...

3mbr4ce teh suXor, DO(0)D.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 9:48 PM on April 1, 2007


Regarding the link to my site and the question of why some of the entries in Austin Bay's Los Angeles Times column are very similar to mine at Double-Tongued Dictionary. I spoke with Austin about this a couple of weeks ago. It seems he put a call out on his blog for military slang and some readers submitted words and definitions they lifted wholesale from my web site without credit or attribution. Austin assumed they were original to the submitters and didn't vet them thoroughly. He's going to include Double-Tongued in the reference section in the next edition or printing of "Embrace the Suck." All is well.

"Embrace the Suck" is a nice little booklet, by the way. I wish we in the US had a more active culture for the production of useful little booklets and pamphlets like this.
posted by Mo Nickels at 4:13 AM on April 2, 2007


Bohica’s been around for a while. Buddy of mine used some great inflection on it too. Bo-Heeeeeeekaaah!
One thing I do like about military jargon in general - it’s often specialized and/or offensive enough to not be co-opted by 12 year old white girls 6 months after introduction.
posted by Smedleyman at 1:15 PM on April 2, 2007


As a side note on radio codes for alphabetic spelling. I picked up their use from tech support guys, and my wife started using them on the phone too. One time she was trying to get the spelling on something from a woman who works in a craft store....

"like Echo-Mike?"

"umm.... like, Elephant-Hurray!"
posted by BrotherCaine at 10:40 PM on April 3, 2007


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