Military slang from two WWII publications

Bapopik at AOL.COM Bapopik at AOL.COM
Fri Jun 11 05:19:51 UTC 1999


     The War Department's Bureau of Public Relations--Radio Branch put out of
a series of "army chuckles" in the releases BEHIND THE HEADLINES IN OUR ARMY.
 It was just one of the many things the MHI library had that you won't find
elsewhere. nm
    From BEHIND THE HEADLINES IN OUR ARMY, 1941 (not dated), no. 5, pg. 6:

     An Infantry man is a "gravel-agitator."
     "Hit the silk"--to use a parachute.
     "Gasoline cowboy"--a member of the Armored force.
     "Motorized dandruff"--insects.

     From BEHIND THE HEADLINES IN OUR ARMY, 1941, no. 7, pg. 2:

     The latest word to come out of Army maneuvers in Tennessee is
"Bivouacky."  Bivouacky in blitzlanguage means slap-happy or punch-drunk from
being in the field or in bivouac too long.  Other slang words coined by the
blitzmen of the armored forces include "mechanics dandruff" for red bugs,
spiders or ants, "galloping G. I. can" for a tank and "let 'er eat" for speed
up.  Finally if one of the boys wants you to keep quiet he'll probably tell
you to "quit slipping your clutch."

     From BEHIND THE HEADLINES IN OUR ARMY, 13 December 1941, no. 28, pg. 8:

     Visitors to the motor pool of the 142nd Infantry at Camp Bowie, Texas,
usually are perplexed when they overhear conversations between the soliders
     The reason is the special brand of slang which the men of the 35th
Division toss around when they're discussing their occupational pursuits.
For instance, a naturally good driver is called a "cowboy," while one who
grinds the gears of a car is known as a "gear-fighter."  A radio
reconnaissance car is a "crackle crate," a motorcycle is a "popcart," and an
ammunition truck a "boom wagon."
     Finally, if a soldier-driver wants to inform you that either a
_policeman_ or an _ambulance_ will eventually stop a _speeder_ in a _fast
truck_--he's likely to come out with something like, "The 'Jesse James' will
bag the 'highballer' on the 'red ball' if the 'meat wagon' doesn't!"

     From BEHIND THE HEADLINES IN OUR ARMY, 12 January 1943, no. 83, pg. 4:

(Etymology of "Shavetail"--ed.)  It appears that during the last war, when
men were commissioned from the ranks, many found they still had some
perfectly good shirts on hand--shirts exactly like those worn by officers
except that they lacked shoulder straps.  In order to salvage these shirts
and make them a proper part of officer regalia, it became a common practice
to cut small strips of cloth from the tail of the shirt and have these strips
formed and sewed on the shoulder--hence, "shavetail."  On the other hand,
more historians explain it along these lines.  "Shavetail" originally
referred to an unbroken mule.  The term is said to have originated with the
Army and was applied to mules because their tails are smooth down to their
tufted tip.  Later the term was applied to second lieutenants--because of
their alleged stubbornness.

---------------------------------------------SLANG FROM _ARMY AND NAVY

     From ARMY AND NAVY REGISTER, 18 November 1939, pg. 3, col. 2:

     Tongue twisters used in the Army as the common slang of military life
may cause the new recruit in the ranks to feel as though he were visiting a
foreign country.  As a guide to some of the more common expressions used in
daily conversations between soldiers, Col. L. B. Magruder, 2d corps area
recruiting officer, New York city, issued a list of the more popular words as
an aid in helping the recruit to adjust himself and avoid any undue shock or
     "Battin' the breeze," a conversation which usually ends with an argument
as to who won the Civil War..."Buck private," a private without any
specialist's rating..."Bunk fatigue," reclining on a bed during a lull in
drills or on an afternoon off..."Cabbage," American money..."Chow,"
meals..."Chowhound," a soldier overly fond of eating..."Circus water," iced
drinks with meals..."Civvies," civilian clothing..."Gold-brick," a lazy
person..."Goldfish," slamon..."Goof off," to make a mistake..."Has heater,"
the cook..."Slum burner," still another fond name for the cook..."Diving
suit," long-legged drawers..."Java and sidearms," coffee, milk and
sugar..."Jawbone," the equivalent of the civilian's "put it on the
cuff"..."Jawbone corporal," an acting corporal..."Mitt-flopper," a
hand-shaker..."O. D.," wollen uniform..."Old Man," the commanding
officer..."Shanghaied," to be transferred to another organization without
requesting it..."Shave-tail," a second lieutenant..."Top-kick," the first
sergeant..."Windjammer," the bugler.
     Col. Magruder explained more fully the several changes that prevail in
the slang used in the different branches of the Army.  A "Dogface" is a
soldier in the Regular Army; a "Doughboy" is an infantryman; a "Red-leg" is
an artilleryman; a "Yellow-leg" a cavalryman.  The word "typewriter"
identifies a machine gun.  "John" or "rookie" means a recruit.

     A nice "Armored English" slang list from ARMY AND NAVY REGISTER, 31 May
1941, pg. 4, cols. 2-3, also appeared in ARMY ORDNANCE, July/August 1941, pg.
79.  The RHHDAS appears to have used the later source for the slang, which is
dated May 23 from Fort Knox.
    GLOSSARY OF ARMY SLANG (1941) by the U. S. War Dept. Bureau of Public
Relations sounds like the same thing that was published in AMERICAN SPEECH,
so I didn't look at it.

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