Wilson Gray wilson.gray at RCN.COM
Sat Feb 5 20:45:45 UTC 2005

On Feb 5, 2005, at 9:26 AM, James A. Landau wrote:

> ---------------------- Information from the mail header
> -----------------------
> Sender:       American Dialect Society <ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU>
> Poster:       "James A. Landau" <JJJRLandau at AOL.COM>
> Subject:      Heel-clicking
> -----------------------------------------------------------------------
> --------
> In a message dated Thu, 3 Feb 2005 18:41:43 -0500,  Wilson Gray
> <wilson.gray at RCN.COM> writes:
>>  I've never heard this term ["heel-clicking"] used in a military
>> context,
> Jim. So, feel
>>  free to explain. But that reminds me. In the WWII anti-German
>>  propaganda of my childhood, the marine-style "jarhead" haircut, the
>> use
>>  of a monocle, and clicking one's heels and bowing one's head when
>>  shaking hands were all considered to be stereotypically German.
> Your problem is that you are too PC, in that you are knee-jerkingly
> classifying as stereotype what is actually a widespread piece of
> Western European
> culture.  The Nazi Wermacht had a lot of non-verbal language, e.g.
> clicking heels,
> that descends from the army of Frederick the Great.  But so does the
> US Army!
> Why?  Because of a Prussian officer, Baron Friedrich William von
> Steuben, who
> became Washington's drillmaster at Valley Forge.  Von Steuben trained
> Washington's troops until they were as good, if not better, than the
> Recoats on the
> battlefield.  The US Army has used descendants of von Steuben's
> Prussian drill
> ever since.
> Don't you remember that coming to Attention, or performing Right
> Face/Left
> Face/About Face, involved an actual clicking together of the heels?

Of course. I also noticed immediately, to my great surprise, the very
first time that we practiced "dismounted drill," that the Army's
marching step for parades is - or, at least, was - only a modification
of the high-kicking, so-called "goose step," which was also considered
to be stereotypically Nazi. Our kicks - called "knee-snaps" by the
drill sergeants - were probably only about half as extreme as those of
the Wehrmacht.

I never had occasion to see the Bundeswehr on parade, but, in ordinary
marching, the soldaten were so tightly formed that not even the
American knee-snap would have been possible.

> "Heel clicking" therefore is, in my experience at least, a common
> metaphor
> for military formality and/or military authoritarianism, and more
> generally, a
> metaphor for any non-verbal actions that hint at authoritarian actions
> and
> subjection responses.  I might add that the metaphor is frequestly used
> facetiously.

That sounds like what we called "chickenshit." The Army's coat of arms
was said to be crossed floor-buffing machines against a field of
chickenshit. When I first heard this word when I was in high school,
its meaning was "cowardly." But, in The War, it had nothing whatever to
do with that. It meant only the totality of the negative aspects of
military life.

> Aside on mobile radiotelephones:  you don't seem to be aware of it,
> but by
> the 1950's and perhaps earlier that US had a nationwide CIVILIAN
> network of what
> were called "mobile phones".  My next-door neighbor circa 1960, who
> was the
> circulation manager for the newspaper my father worked on, had one in
> his car.
> It fit easily between the transmission hump and the
> dashboard---presumably it
> drew power from the car's own electrical system so batteries were not
> included.  I believe the Bell System operated this service.  It was
> not widely
> popular, due to few channels available and probably high price as
> well, i.e. the
> technology for mass-market mobile phones did not exist until the cell
> phone was
> developed.

Back in 1956, a guy offered me a lift across St. Louis's Mill Creek
Valley. (There was only a valley; the creek had been dried up some time
in the 19th Century, when St. Louis was the fourth-largest city in the
country. By weird coincidence, my birthplace, Marshall, was once the
fourth-largest city in Texas. Nowadays, they're both backwaters.) He
had what was called a "car telephone," which he proceeded to
demonstrate to me in all its intricacy. Since I had been just waiting
for the bus and not thumbing, I've always assumed that the guy offered
me a lift specifically so that he could show off his car phone. From
your description, it was the same as, or very similar to, what your
neighbor had.

-Wilson Gray

> The classic story is that Lyndon Johnson while Senate Majority Leader
> had one
> in his limo.  Everett Dirksen then got one and proceeded to place a
> call from
> his limo to Johnson's.  LBJ neatly one-upped Dirksen by saying, "I'm
> sorry,
> Ev, I've got a call on the other line."
>       - Jim Landau
> overheard yesterday:
> female voice: "Dress is business casual".
> male voice: "What does that mean?"
> female voice again:  "It means you wear shoes"

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