A couple of examples of black-GI slang influenced by German

Wilson Gray hwgray at EARTHLINK.NET
Tue Jul 27 06:14:18 UTC 2004

As usual, I'm talking about ancient history. My arrival in Germany
["After offloading (the first time that I'd ever heard this word) the
bus, officers and civilian personnel and their dependents will proceed
to the first room. NCO's and their dependents will proceed to the
second room. Remaining personnel will proceed to the third room." And
we found ourselves back outside in the snowstorm] was in 1/961,
predating the Berlin Wall. At that time, black troops and white troops
did not interact socially. Black was as socially separate from white as
in any segregated, stomp-down Mississippi backwater. As a consequence,
if white GI's used "hitting the strasse" at that time, it's not
something that I could have known anything about. Likewise, only black
troops referred to any German or Germans as "Cumrad," for which, as I
said, there was no other form, regardless of the number of Germans
referred to. In fact, the entire German nation was "Cumrad" when it
became necessary to refer to it. Things being as they were, in general,
the only whites that I had occasion to talk to were the officers and
the long-service NCO's in command who still used "Krauts" for the
Germans. They referred to the US as "The States" or as the "Land of the
Big PX," whereas the "Unites States Colored Troops," to revive a term
from the Civil War, referred to the US as "The World."

As you probably know, during the Vietnam War, when the spelling
"Viet-Nam" was still used, the term "The World" became the common term
among all GI's for the usual reason: as some wise man once put it,
"Everybody wants to be a nigger, unless he is one.".

At first, I was very much in favor of the war in Vietnam for a single
reason: this war was the first time in history in which integration was
an *active* policy in any situation or in any location under the
control of the United States. Black soldiers became NCO's. Black
officers actually led white soldiers into battle, Black generals
finally *commanded,* instead of merely acting as the adjutants - a
military term meaning approximately "manservants" - of white generals.
It appeared that the interracial millenium had finally arrived. When
you read the memoirs of black Vietnam vets, it's astounding to see the
pride and joy with they served side by side with their white
brothers-in-arms. However, when you read the memoirs of white vets, you
see that, to them, the black troops were merely the same old niggers
that they'd always been throughout  American history. Even in war
movies like "Platoon," it's only the black soldiers who are shown
cracking under the pressure of combat, not the white soldiers who are
forced to save the lives of these worthless black fools.

-Wilson Gray

On Jul 26, 2004, at 7:20 PM, Jonathan Lighter wrote:

> ---------------------- Information from the mail header
> -----------------------
> Sender:       American Dialect Society <ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU>
> Poster:       Jonathan Lighter <wuxxmupp2000 at YAHOO.COM>
> Subject:      Re: A couple of examples of black-GI slang influenced by
> German
> -----------------------------------------------------------------------
> --------
> Thanks for the post, Wilson.  Most of these are new to me.  I have
> heard white GIs refer to "hitting the /strass@/."  West Germans
> are/were referred to as "comrades" as indicated.  By the '70s this had
> been reduced to "rads."
> JL
> Wilson Gray <hwgray at EARTHLINK.NET> wrote:
> ---------------------- Information from the mail header
> -----------------------
> Sender: American Dialect Society
> Poster: Wilson Gray
> Subject: A couple of examples of black-GI slang influenced by German
> -----------------------------------------------------------------------
> --------
> "Bop the strahss" : go for a casual walk or stroll along the
> sidewalk(s) through town, just checking out the happenings, wherein
> "strahss" is clearly based on German "Strasse" street.
> "Put the shprekken on [someone]" : a host meanings, such as, provide
> someone with needed information; run a confidence game on someone; tell
> someone like it T I tiz; attempt to seduce a woman; tell someone the
> latest rumor or gossip, etc., wherein "shprekken" is clearly based on
> German "sprechen" speak.
> "Cumrad" : like "Comrade" [< G Kamerad] Mil. in W. Germany a German as
> in DHAS, but otherwise different. In WWII movies and comic books,
> Wehrmacht soldiers shout "Kamerad" and, perhaps, show a white flag, as
> a sign of surrender. Since then, black GI's have used "Cumrad" as the
> essential, insulting term for "German" in any context whatsoever, like
> "Kraut" used by white GI's. "Cumrad," however, is both singular and
> plural, plus collective and individuative.
> Hence, we would say, e.g. "I was going to bop the strahss, till I saw
> Cumrad." I was going to go for a walk till I saw how many indigenous
> personnel [the official military term] were on the street. The problem
> was that the average Doob(ie) - the insulting term for a German used by
> Russian-speaking GI's in the Army Security Agency - man-in-the-street
> tended to react with stunned, drop-jawed shock and awe to the sight of
> anyone who was obviously not a German (unless he was a Turk), even if
> he was white (German guys already wore, in the late '50's, what came to
> be known as the Beatle haircut, so that the fact that you weren't a
> German was given away by your GI haircut, even if you were otherwise
> white and relatively short), let alone black. So, no black GI's would
> want to walking, if there were a lot of Germans already on the street.
> Americans are taught at least to pretend not to stare. Not so with
> Cumrad. Being 6' 4" tall, weighing 205, and clearly of African
> descent, I LITERALLY STOPPED TRAFFIC! Cumrad would come from all
> directions to get a look at the monstrosity in their midst. And
> returning the look of Cumrad staring at you would not cause him to turn
> away, making you feel like a zoo animal. Cumrad would bring his
> children up to the table to stare at me, if I was trying to eat a meal
> in a restaurant. A five-year-old, pointing, shouted across the town
> plaza in Bernkastel, "Kuk, Mutti! Ein Mohr!" Look, Mom! A Moor!"
> Of course, since nobody put the shprekken on Cumrad, the Germans didn't
> realize that Cumrad was meant as an insult. Hence, it was possible to
> address a German as Cumrad under any set of circumstances and said
> German would always respond positively, thinking that we were
> addressing him as a "comrade," as opposed to the "Kraut" used by white
> GI's, and were, therefore, at least attempting to be friendly.
> "Fraw" and "Frawline" (of obvious origin) were used the same way
> syntactically, but differently semantically. Someone once said to me,
> "Frawline is the queen of Europe," i.e. "German women are the most
> beautiful in Europe."
> -Wilson Gray
> ---------------------------------
> Do you Yahoo!?
> Yahoo! Mail - You care about security. So do we.

More information about the Ads-l mailing list