Douglas G. Wilson douglas at NB.NET
Mon Jul 6 16:52:39 UTC 2009

Jonathan Lighter wrote:
> ...
> In the words of Ambose Bierce:
>             "Ours is a Christian army"; so he said
>             A regiment of bangomen who led.
>             "And ours a Christian navy," added he
>             Who sailed a thunder-junk upon the sea.
> A "thunder-junk" is (faux?) Oriental pidgin for "warship," so presumably the
> "bangomen" have something to do with the Far East. The Philippines? ....

"Thunder-junk" is apparently Bierce's own faux-pidgin for "warship". I
find the word in only two distinct passages by Bierce, but I can't find
any comparable non-Bierce use of the word. I suspect this is just made
up to sound ridiculous.

[There are Chinese expressions referring to mines and similar explosives
which can be naively glossed with "thunder", e.g., "yu-lei" =
"fish-thunder" = "torpedo", "yu-lei-ting" = "fish-thunder-boat" =
"torpedo boat", also "shou-lei" = "hand-thunder" = "hand grenade",
"di-lei" = "ground-thunder" = "landmine", etc. ... no great surprise ...
but I don't think there's necessarily any connection.]

['Pidgin' "thunder-boat" = "steamboat" at G. Books seems to have
occurred in an American Indian context.]

Bierce presented some little fables about imaginary primitive/archaic
Oriental kings and their military pretensions. See (e.g.) "king of
Madagao", "king of Bornegascar", "emperor of Bang", "emperor of Boombang".

I suppose "bangoman" by analogy is faux-pidgin for "firearm-carrying
infantryman", and I suppose the "bango" is just onomatopoeic: the
bangoman makes 'bang' sounds with his weapon. Again I think this is
probably just made up by Bierce out of the air.

Perhaps those with bigger databases can do better.

[Another conceivable hypothesis -- which I think seems unlikely although
it makes a more amusing story: "bango-man" = "dogtag man" = "soldier",
after "bango" = "numbered dogtag worn by Hawaiian plantation laborer",
presumably from Japanese "bangou" = "number").]

-- Doug Wilson

The American Dialect Society -

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