R.I.F., more stuff

Wilson Gray hwgray at GMAIL.COM
Mon Mar 9 15:35:43 UTC 2009

FWIW, when I was in the Army, late '50's to early '60's, the use of
"riff," as the rough equivalent of "bust," was so common that it
didn't struck me at all that it was based on anything beyond mere
sound-symbolism. "Riff" differed from "bust" to the extent that an EM
could be busted down any random number of paygrades with no choice in
the matter, whereas a riffed officer had choices: 1) he could be
released from active duty, retaining his rank as an officer in the
Army Reserve; 2) he could remain on active duty as an EM at a paygrade
based on his rank, retaining his rank as an officer in the Army
Reserve; 3) he could remain on active duty simply as an EM; 4) he
could be separated from active duty entirely, while remaining in the
Reserves. He could be separated from the military entirely, usually
after having served time in the stockade. Recently, a national
newscaster referred to the stockade as the "brig." I still need
Sominex to get to sleep.

Getting riffed was something like failing to get tenure. An officer
was (is?) given three chances to be promoted to the next-higher rank.
If he failed the third chance, he was riffed. An exception was made
for EM who had received battlefield commissions. Such soldiers had a
choice of staying on the officer track, leaving open the possibility
of getting promoted or getting riffed, or going back to the EM track,
in which case, they retained the officer rank with no possibility of
getting promoted or of getting riffed, but continued to rise through
the enlisted grades in the Reserve. (One's Reserve grade affected
one's retirement pay. Hence, Reserve promotions follow(ed?) along with
one's active-duty promotions.)

Enlisted Reservists who have never served on active duty are promoted
very slowly. On active duty, I was a Specialist 5, a grade of no
importance in the Security Agency, since 85% or more of Agency EM were
of that grade. In the Reserves, however, I was an acting master
sergeant, since I, by sheer coincidence, held a higher grade than any
other EM in the unit. The name, Truman van Dyke, may mean something to
cineastes. Maj. van Dyke was the C.O. of that Security Agency Reserve

Several years after I was again a civilian, I read in some
non-dictionary book or other that the word, "riff," was based on BrE
military terminology, "RIF," from "reduction in force." I have nothing
to say WRT the truth of this claim.

All say, "How hard it is that we have to die"---a strange complaint to
come from the mouths of people who have had to live.
-Mark Twain

On Sun, Mar 8, 2009 at 11:29 AM, David K. Barnhart
<dbarnhart at highlands.com> wrote:
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> Sender: Â  Â  Â  American Dialect Society <ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU>
> Poster: Â  Â  Â  "David K. Barnhart" <dbarnhart at HIGHLANDS.COM>
> Subject: Â  Â  Â R.I.F., more stuff
> -------------------------------------------------------------------------------
> RIF appears in MW3 as a n. Â MW2 does not have RIF.
> As a verb it does not appear to have been recognized by dictionary editors.
> MW11 (+ n.)
> RHDU (+ n.)
> RHWC (+ n.)
> OED (+ n. on-line edition [eq = 1966])
> NOAD (- n.)
> WNW (+ n.)
> AHD (- n.)
> Encarta (-n.)
> WBD (+ n.)
> TBCDD [Thorndike Barnhart Comprehensive Desk, the first dictionary with
> Sputnik) (- n.)
> Dictionary of United States Military Terms For Joint Usage (w/Nato glossary
> section) (1964) (- n.)
> Dictionary of United States Army Terms (TM 20-205, 18 January 1944) (-n.)
> United States Air Force Dictionary (Air University Press, 1956) (+ n.)
> --all are minus the verb function.
> Dickson, Paul. War Slang (New York: Pocket Books, 1994) has an entry for
> riff, v., meaning "to let go before retirement" in the section for Vietnam
> War (p 286).
> ------------------------------------------------------------
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