antedating: jarhead

Jonathan Lighter wuxxmupp2000 at GMAIL.COM
Mon Feb 22 02:06:36 UTC 2010

The latest ex. NewspaperArchive has for the Army "Jarheads" is Nov. 8, 1941.
Evidently there was no Army-Navy game of interest to the S.F.-Oakland area
between 1934 and 1941.

Also, the "Jarheads" were not the West Point team after all, but represented
"West Coast Army," from (I presume) the Presidio in S.F.


On Sun, Feb 21, 2010 at 8:37 PM, Jonathan Lighter <wuxxmupp2000 at>wrote:

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> Sender:       American Dialect Society <ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU>
> Poster:       Jonathan Lighter <wuxxmupp2000 at GMAIL.COM>
> Subject:      antedating: jarhead
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> A _jarhead_, as most people know since the 2006 film of that name, is a
> U.S.
> Marine.  HDAS (which also features _grapevine_ and _grapevine telegraph_
> among its many wonders) long ago took it back to 1943.
> Rather curiously, HDAS also includes an earlier sense, dated 1933, "a
> member of the U.S. Army." The editor suggests that the designation came
> from
> the Army football team's mule mascot ("jarhead" already meant mule) , as
> the
> following still earlier exx. makes fairly clear:
> 1926 _Oakland Tribune_ (Oct. 21) 23: Broncos Meet Army at Ewing Field
> Sunday....Army's Jarheads and the University of Santa Clara Broncs meet on
> the gridiron of Ewing Field, San Francisco, next Sunday
> afternoon....[T]here
> is nound to be some scars on the mule and the bronc when the smoke of
> battle
> clears away.
> 1929 _Oakland Tribune_ (Nov. 12) B-4: U.C. Stadium Jammed With Color as
> Grid
> Teams Battle....A splash of vivid color filled the gigantic California
> Memorial Stadium yesterday for the annual battle between the Army and Navy
> football teams. There's no doubt about it - the service classic outrivals
> any game in the west when it come to atmosphere and setting, and the
> rivalry
> is as keen bewteen the gobs and jarheads as between the California Bears
> and
> the Stanford Cardinals....The Army mule eyed the Navy goat warrily [sic]
> and
> the game was on.
>  The same 1929 sports page conveniently contrasts "jarheads" and
> "leathernecks":
> SAN DIEGO MARINES DEFEAT BOAT TEAM...The San Diego Marines defeated the
> U.S.S. Tennessee 12-7....A touchdown...field goal...and a safety gave the
> Leathernecks their points.
> It would seem, then,  that "Jarheads" was originally a sports page
> nickname for the West Point football team. It was then occasionally
> extended to the army generally. These usages appear to have been restricted
> to the Oakland-San Francisco area.
> Exactly why "jarhead" should come to mean "U.S. Marine" is unclear, unless
> it resulted from some confusion in contexts like "gobs and jarheads."  But
> exx. of that collocation may have been too infrequent to have had any
> lasting influence. Perhaps enough West Coast sailors in the late  '20s
> still
> regarded marines as "soldiers" to encourage them to apply the term in
> derision.
> The enormous growth of the armed forces in WWII and the word's appearance
> in
> the Randolph Scott movie _Gung Ho_ (1944) helped establish it in its
> current
> sense, though it seems not to have become very general till the early
> 1950s.
> JL
> --
> "If the truth is half as bad as I think it is, you can't handle the truth."
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