Vietnam slang article in TRUE (April 1966) (LONG!)
Bapopik at AOL.COM
Bapopik at AOL.COM
Sun Jun 4 20:58:59 UTC 2000
O.K., here's a delayed Veteran's Day special. But Jesse, it's long!
No "nine yards."
From TRUE, April 1966, pg. 39:
_Report from Viet Nam_
_"SORRY ABOUT THAT"_
_This is the best-known phrase in a new GI lingo that's more
sophisticated--and cynical--than the old soldier talk of World Wars I and II_
By MALCOLM W. BROWNE
_"There'll be an OIF over you in two zero. Give him some smoke when you
have him in sight so he'll see you as friendlies. The fac will be calling
veenaf tacair on Charlie about one click south of you. This could be a
little hairy. How's your ammo and charlies?"_
(...) Nowadays in Viet Nam the above paragraph in italics, translates to
"There'll be a light, single-engine spotter plane over you in 20
minutes. Throw out a smoke signal grenade when you see him so he can
identify you. The forward air controller (fac) will be directing Vietnamese
Air Force (VNAF, pronounced 'veenaf') tactical air power (tacair)
fighter-bombers on the Viet Cong ('Charlie' in this case means the enemy who
can also be 'Victor Charlie')(RHHDAS 1965--ed.) about one kilometer south of
you. This could be a bit dangerous. How are your ammunition and food
("charlies" now denoting C-rations)(RHHDAS?--ed.) holding up?"
To further illustrate the complexities of today's jargon, the radio
conversation between headquarters and outpost might continue as follows:
"We still have our _basic loads_ (the ammunition we started with) and
sufficient charlies for tonight, but we're running out of _music_
(water)(RHHDAS?--ed.). Can you get some in by _huey_ (helicopter)(RHHDAS
1962--ed.) pretty soon?"
"Roger. Do you require _dustoff_ (a helicopter ambulance)(RHHDAS 1964,
"Negative, but the _pucker factor_ (degree of fear) _would be lower_
(we'd breathe easier) if he could _orbit_ (fly around our area) for awhile.
_Incoming small arms from a whisky romeo 247389 is picking up_ (small arms
fire is increasing from the direction marked on the map by the coordinates
WR247389), and Charlie might be planning to knock off our _OP_ (outpost). Is
"_That's affirm_ (yes, it is), and _wilco on the orbit_ (will comply
with your request to stay in the air). _Out_ (end of transmission)."
You may be told to "shove it," but no longer to "blow it out your
barracks bag." For breakfast, mess halls still serve "unmentionable on
shingles," and GI's down on their luck are still advised to have the chaplain
punch their "TS cards." But the big changes have been from words to numbers
and abbreviations, the increased use of deliberately involved language, and
the introduction of Vietnamese words, often mispronounced.
(...) (Pg. 96, col. 1--ed.)
Helicopters, for example, may carry such descriptive labels as
"Iroquois," "Chinook," and "Husky," but no self-respecting serviceman would
be caught saying them. "Huey," for the HUIA chopper and its widely-used
descendants for some reason is all right, but for the rest, it must be H-34,
H-37, HH-13, and so on. Or rather, to make things even messier,
pronunciation should be phonetic, so that instead of calling a "Husky" by
that name or even "HH-43," it's a "Hotel-Hotel-Four-Three."
Yet strangely in this man's army, a few really exotic weapons manage to
earn and keepp proper names. Thus, there is the "Lazy Dog"--a cluster of
sharpened steel projectiles with fins, which when dropped by jet fighters
over the Vietnamese jungles produces high casualties. And there is "Puff the
Magic Dragon," a two-engine C-17 transport plane fitted with a six-barrelled
machine gun capable of firing 6,000 bullets per minute, also used in jungle
mop-ups. In contrast, GI's use the letter-number designations even for such
unlikely things as can openers (P-38) and canned crackers, cheese spread and
marmalade (B-1, B-2, B-3).
This lust for numbers also carries over into language picked up in
From the American occupation of Japan, the phrase "number one" (from the
Japanese "ichiban," meaning very good, the best) found a permanent place in
GI talk. By extension, "number ten" came to mean very bad, the worst.
(RHHDAS 1953--ed.) The occupation of Japan is over, and very few of the GI's
now running our war have ever been to Japan. But still, people all over
(Col. 2--ed.) the world, including Vietnamese, are learning from our troops
that "number one" is good English meaning "the best."
Viet Nam has added two other numbers to soldier-sailor lingo: 33 and 35.
The number 33 (in Vietnamese, "bamouiba") is always associated with the
best selling local brand of beer: "33 Export." (I noticed numbers on
cigarette brands when I was there--ed.) "Bamouiba," as it is universally
known, has a kick like a mule, and some say it'll give a man anything from
peptic ulcers to leprosy. (In fairness, I should note that I have thrived on
this brew for years with no ill effects.) In tribute to the power of
bamouiba, a GI who has served a full one-year tour in Viet Nam is supposed to
have so proved his mettle that he's entitled to the "bamouiba ribbon." There
are even street merchants in Saigon who sell "bamoiba ribbons"--cloth
replicas of the beer labels--to GI's game enough to sew them to their caps.
But more important to Vietnamese-American relations is the number "35."
Viet Nam is a superstitious nation and in the mystical worlds of astrology
and numerology, the number 35 means goat. The goat in Viet Nam is a symbol
of untiring and voracious sexual lust. Thus, "goat," or "35," or the
Vietnamese word for 35, "bamouilam," all mean "wolf," or even "dirty old man."
So when a sweet young thing at a bar flickers her eyelashes at you and
giggles, "Tee-hee! You are bamouilam," she is saying literally, "you are
35." But that's not what she means. It goes without saying that bamouilam
is a number dear to the hearts of American fighting men, and it's an
important part of their vocabulary.
(...)(Col. 3--ed.)(Discussion of Vietnamese and French words--ed.)
Each of America's past wars has produced synonyms for the word "girl,"
which is possibly the most important word in the GI vocabulary.
In Germany there was "schatzy," in France there was "amaselle," and in
Japan there was "moose" (derived from the Japanese "musume," meaning girl or
daughter). Since Korea was close to Japan, Korean girls also become
But the Korean War is long past, so "moose" will not do for Viet Nam.
Some GI's know and use the words "co-dep" ("pretty girl") in referring to
Vietnamese girls. It hasn't completely caught on yet, so you also hear such
old standbys as "broad" and "dish" when a sexy Miss walks by.
The American military establishment in Viet Nam has, of course, produced
a huge crop of letter abbreviations, all known and used as part of the new GI
Some samples: "macvee" (from MACV, meaning Military Assistance Command
Vietnam), "arvin" (from ARVN, meaning Army of the Republic of Viet Nam),
"rag" (River Assault Group), "juspow" (from JUSPAO, meaning Joint U.S. Public
Affairs Office) and "you-som" (from USOM, meaning U.S. Operations Mission,
the old name for the U.S. Aid Mission).
(...) (Pg. 97, col. 1--ed.)
The word "you-som" (USOM) is very close in pronunciation to the
Vietnamese words meaning "breast of a Chinese woman." Thus, when a U.S. Army
officer grimly says, "We've got to get USOM to send some powdered milk down
to that hamlet," he may get muffled laughter from a Vietnamese listener and
not know what he said to produce it.
Because today's GI's love to find ways to understate and overcomplicate
what they have in mind, you never "shoot," "rocket" or "bomb," you "expend
ordnance." And when you fire a 3.5-inch rocket right into the chest of a
Viet Cong, blowing him into hamburger, it is proper to say that you have
"really spoiled his day." (Precursor of Clint Eastwood's "Make my
day"?--ed.) It was in Viet Nam that the phrase now used all over the
world--"sorry about that"--came into being. It supposedly was first uttered
by a field surgeon as he was about to amputate the smashed leg of a Special
So far, the GI's have failed to find a really derogatory name for their
enemy. In past wars it has been "Huns" or "Krauts" for Germans, "Japs" for
Japanese, "Gooks" for Korean, and so on. The French used to refer to their
Vietnamese enemy as the "Viets," but GI's have found nothing stronger than
"Charlie," unless you count "hostile personnnel." (...)
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