Leatherneck [Was: antedating: jarhead]

Victor Steinbok aardvark66 at GMAIL.COM
Mon Feb 22 09:53:46 UTC 2010

Longish post on LEATHERNECK--antedating US to 1908, Brit. to 1887 (at
least), and also possibly correcting OED Brit. definition [I am quite
convinced that the OED is wrong here--the original definition was picked
up from a couple of period slang dictionaries, but they seem to be the
only ones that actually use that definition], and adding a couple of
possible other entries under "leatherneck".


The majority of early GB hits on "leatherneck" come from WWI US,
including a number of letters published in 1918-19 (and later) from the
earlier years in the war.

OED has the US Marine reference back to 1914 and the British one to
1890, but to mean "soldiers", not "marines" (in sailor slang). This is
all the more puzzling because my impression has been that a "marine" was
a soldier in naval service, usually to carry out protection for landing
parties, etc. Sure enough, the OED has for Marine, n. 2. b.

> Originally: a soldier enlisted and trained to serve on board ship.

OK, when were the Royal Marines established, then? Wiki answers that one:

> The Corps of Royal Marines, the infantry land fighting element of
> the United Kingdom's Royal Navy, was formed as part of the Naval
> Service in 1755. However, it can trace its origins back as far as
> 1664, when English soldiers first went to sea to fight the Dutch.

So, let's review--soldiers have served on Royal Navy vessels since 1664,
they were called "marines" at least since 1755--well, actually, the
_Royal_ Marines since 1755, just "marines" prior to that; the Royal
Marines used to have a high stock that was dropped from the uniform by
the mid-1830s; by 1890, sailors referred to "soldiers" as
"leathernecks"--apparently, because of the stock; and, by 1914, the _US_
Marines were known as "leathernecks". I am going to call shenanigans on
this one.

What would happen if I alleged--at the moment, at least--that
"leathernecks" [in British use] /might/ have applied to /all/ soldiers
to whom the Royal Navy sailors might have referred to, but /certainly/
applied to those soldiers with whom these sailors were /most/ familiar,
i.e., the Royal Marines? How much of a stretch would it be to suggest
that the /primary/ reference, in this case, was the Royal Marines, not
soldiers in general? (and were their uniforms ever  identical?) It
should be no surprise that US Marines have been issued [black] stock
collar since 1798 as well. (A smaller version of stock is still included
in dress blues today, although it's no longer a 3+-in high piece of
stiff black leather--it's been long dropped form service uniform.)

Wiki articles suggest, alternately, that the high stock was introduced
as a 19th century "military fashion" item and that it improved the
enlisted men's "military bearing and appearance by forcing the chin
high" and not that it served as neck armor against sword blows. But it
would not be Wiki if it did not contradict itself in another article.

But here's an interesting point from the Wiki Leatherneck article:
> The chief dispute over the origin of this slang term for a marine is
> whether it originated in the Royal Marines or the U.S. Marines.

If this is, in fact, a bone of contention here, why did the earliest OED
references not go past 1890 and 1914, respectively, and the British use
does not even mention the Royal Marines? And, it should be pointed out,
early Marines officers also wore rather substantial-size stocks.

I really want to push this point. There are a couple of Kipling
citations that offer something to contradict the original OED line that
the slang applied to /all/ soldiers. In am including extended text, to
make it clear that the references are specifically to Marines.

The Writings in Prose and Verse of Rudyard Kipling. [Vol. XXII] Traffics
and Discoveries. New York, 1904
The Bonds of Discipline
Rudyard Kipling, US Copyright 1903 [not sure of the original publication
date, but the US date is certain]
p. 56
> "Lord! 'Ow a little moisture disintegrates, don't it? When we 'ad
> ship's theatricals off Vigo, Glass 'ere played Dick Deadyeye to the
> moral, though of course the lower deck wasn't pleased to see a
> leatherneck interpretin' a strictly maritime part, as you might say. ..."

> " 'I ain't an officer,' 'e says. '/My/ sword won't be handed back to
> me at the end o' the court-martial on account o' my little weaknesses,
> an' no stain on my character. I'm only a pore beggar of a Red Marine
> with eighteen years' service, an' why for,' says he, wringin' 'is
> hands like this all the time. 'must I chuck away my pension,
> sub-lootenent or no sub-lootenant? Look at 'em,' he says, 'only look
> at 'em. Marines fallin' in for small-arm drill!'
> "The leathernecks was layin' aft at the double, an' a more insanitary
> set of accidents I never wish to behold. ..."

p. 74
> "Mr. Moorshed goes forward, lookin' unusual 'appy, even for him. The
> Marines was enjoyin' a committee-meetin' in their own flat.
> "After that, it fell dark, ...
> " 'An' what might our last giddy-go-round signify?' I asks of 'Op.
> " 'Good 'Eavins!' 'e says, 'Are you in the habit o' permittin'
> leathernecks to assassinate lootenants every morning at drill without
> immejitly 'avin' 'em shot on the foc'sle in the horrid crawly-crawly
> twilight?' "

p. 78
> "The Marines carried the corpse below. Then the bugle give us some
> more 'Dead March.' Then we 'eard a splash from a bow six-pounder port,
> an' the bugle struck up a cheerful tune. The whole lower deck was
> complimentin' Glass, 'oo took it very meek. 'E /is/ a good actor, for
> all 'e's a leatherneck. ..."

Windsor Magazine, Vol. 18, June-Nov. 1903, pp. 247, 248, 255, 256

Of course, why make it easy? There is certainly evidence pointing the
other way--quite directly.

[Scanned at Harvard; GB incorrectly lists this as Vol. 1.]
A dictionary of slang, jargon & cant: embracing English, American, and
Anglo-Indian slang, pidgin English, tinker's jargon and other irregular
phraseology, Ed. by Albert Barere, Charles Godfrey Leland. Volume 2.
[Edinburgh?] The Ballantyne Press, 1890
> Leather-necks (naval), a term for soldiers; from their leather stock,
> which to a sailor, with his neck free of any hindrance, must appear
> such an uncomfortable fashion.

One has to wonder if this was one of OED's sources for this particular
definition. But note that this one does not specify that this is
specifically /British/ slang.

And if it weren't the original source (1890 /Pall Mall/ is cited in the
OED), it can be antedated (even if by mere three years).

Mere Shakings; by J. F. Keane. London, 1887
pp. 117-8
> It was on a visit to one of the great naval and military centres on
> our coast that I once heard a Frenchman declare that the population of
> England consisted principally of sentries on duty. At this place a
> sham fight was to come off in which a Naval Brigade was to be engaged.
> According to the prepared plan of action, the sea forces should, after
> making an assault by landing, have been repelled and driven back to
> their ships in good order. All went well until the last moment of
> embarkation, when a strong pursuing *land force of "leathernecks"*
> pressed very closely on the *covering party of bluejackets*. The whole
> proceeding, though no doubt perfectly in accordance with science from
> a strategical point of view, had never been tasteful to the British
> tar. At this last moment then, *a victorious soldier* was seen to meet
> with an accident, then another; then it appeared to the spectators to
> be a most realistic, exciting, and delightful wind-up of the /sham/
> fight, for *the soldiers* were now really dropping under *the fire of
> the sailors*, then breaking, and flying in all directions, while *the
> sailors* threw off all restraint of officers and followed the enemy in
> skirmishing order, firing pebbles, from the beach, with which they had
> filled their pockets, and which they now slipped into their rifles
> before the blank cartridges that had been served them.
[Note: The Introduction to the book explains the original of the
title--and the underlying expression.]

Now, the OED has "blue jacket" for sailor.
> *blue jacket*, a sailor (from the colour of his jacket); esp. used to
> distinguish the seamen from the marines

It is attested to in 1830, with the blue jacket/marine contrast from
1859. It is possible that the "leathernecks" here merely refers to the
generic soldiers, but nothing in the texts contradicts the possibility
that it actually specifically denotes the marines against whom the
sailors were training. To put it simply, since we do know that it is
normal slang for the Marines, there is simply no reason to believe that
it also denotes generic soldiery. Given that "blue jacket" is listed as
being particularly useful to distinguish the sailors from the marines,
it stands to reason that the reverse is true for "leatherneck". I
understand the original OED desire to cover as much of a definition with
as little of space/language as possible. But, for the sake of accuracy,
I would argue that it was *never* the case that "leatherneck" was slang
to distinguish sailors from all soldiers, but, rather, represented the
counter to "bluejackets" used to separate sailors from the most familiar
to them *marines*. Besides, did the generic redcoat /ever/ wear a 3-in.
stock? Best I can determine, their collars resembled the modern stock of
US Marine dress uniform and not the 3 1/2-in. tall leather stock that
the Royal Marines and US Marines initially wore (even officers,
apparently-- http://bit.ly/do8Tno ). [Note: Royal Marines wore the red
coats--standard or modified--through virtually the entire 19th century.]

Also note that some WWI and later sources /explicitly/ identify
"leatherneck" as a US /and/ British Naval term that refers to the
respective Marines.

Irrespectively of the date, the Punch text is unambiguous.

Punch, Vol. 156, 1919, p. 180 [snippet does not contain the cited text,
which is on the search page]
> When the mellow bugle-note Sounds in every ship afloat, and you see
> tho forward decks littered up with leathernecks, Seamen sprawling on
> the hatches, ...

Papers of the Michigan Academy of Science, Arts, and Letters, Volume 10,
1929, p. 305
[The snippet appears to be from World War Slang and Taunts]
> 'leathernecks (Br. N. and Am.), Royal Marines. The name was suggested
> by the tight military collar. Called also Bullocks and Port Mahon ...
> " ... The infantry, the cavalry, and
> the dirty engineers
> Couldn't lick the Leathernecks
> in a hundred thousand years."

Here, it's another US publication, but it specifically refers to British
Naval slang, as well as American usage. [Don't have the full citation
and the text was not fully confirmed, but actual date and location is
not as important as the text itself.]

But this whole argument can be put to rest more directly.
The Century Dictionary and Cyclopedia with a New Atlas of the World.
Vol. 5 (of 12), 1911 [but published since 1889]
> *leatherneck* (leTH'e.r-nek), n. A marine. [_Eng. naval slang_.]
[The citation is to the Kipling piece above!!]

Punch, vol. 134, March 25, 1908, p. 234 [last page of issue]
[caption under a drawing of a man with an apron, holding a saucepan]
> /Modern Bluejacket:/
> "Oh, I am the cook and the captain bold,
> And the 'tiff'* of the /Spendnought/ too;
> The watch on deck and the 'leather-neck,'÷
> And a perishin' nucleus crew!"
> [footnote] * Engine-room artificer.      ÷ Marine.

There is no doubt about this one--fully confirmed text, date, etc.

The Mess Deck; by W. F. Shannon. London, 1899.
The Manly Heart, pp. 46-7
> I heard of Jim's aspirations after the higher life, and when I
> casually met him a day or two after this conversation, I was surprised
> to find him along and unhappy.
> " 'Why so pale and wan, fond lover?' "
> He looked at me vacantly, and spat in the roadway. "It wouldn't a-bin
> so bad if it a-bin a /blue/ marine," he said; "but a /red/ marine!"
> "Why, Jim, what is it?"
> "An insec', that's what it is! A crawlin' leatherneck! A bullock! And
> now it's got a dungaree-coloured eye. Why is there such things as
> marines?"

We can also pre-date the 1914 US citations.

The Pacific Monthly, Vol. 20, No. 2, August, 1908.
D. E. Dermody, A Recruit From Montana; p. 152/2
> The Navy blue book penalizes striking a superior officer, except in
> self-defense, at a maximum punishment of five years' imprisonment at
> hard labor and dishonorable discharge. ...
> "They say them marine corporals up at the stone frigate are gittin' to
> be somethin' fierce nowadays--bustin' heads and lambastin' fellows
> around to beat the banjo. It's where them blamed leathernecks git even
> with the bluejackets alright. ...

This seems to be exactly the same use as in the Kipling story and it's
across the Atlantic on the other side of the continent. And, to top it
off, you get "bluejackets" again.

Only slightly later (but still before WWI):

The Happy-Ship; Setting Forth The Adventures of Shorty and Patrick U. S.
S. Oklahoma; By Stephen French Whitman. New York, 1913
p. 213
> "The noise below was fierce: a hundred an' sixty sailormen arguin'
> who'd be picked, an' ready to chew the ear off the twenty
> marines--they bein' bound to go, one an' all, whatever happened. Me
> an' a machinist named Gannis were the only ones left with common sense.
> " 'For the love o' Mike," says Gannis, 'get wise to yourselves!
> Besides the Leathernecks, there no more than thrirty o' you can get
> off, an' those'll be the good-conduct men."

And, of course, there is ADS's own Dialect Notes, Vol. 4 (1913) that
succinctly lists "*leatherneck*, n. A marine." [assuming GB is correct here]

The OED also seems to be missing an Aussie meaning of "leatherneck"
which seems to identify a native species. I can't really tell if it's a
bird or an animal, but that almost misses the point. They are noisy,
clattering creatures that easily could have given cause to the third
definition in the OED.

When the red gods call; By Beatrice Ethel Grimshaw, 1911 (?)
pp. 160, 322
> The leathernecks clattered and shouted in the cocoa- nuts like a ward
> of lunatics let loose. I hated them, and I hated the Australian crows
> that were dodging in an out of the mango boughs, screaming ...
> Above the roof three leathernecks mocked and clattered in the
> palm-tops--"Ki-ou! Wee-ka! Wakatipu!" just as they did in the evenings
> long ago ...

The date may not be correct, but, judging from the kerning of
semicolons, it's close (certainly not far from the turn of the century),
even though GB only has snippets. Grimshaw (1871-1953) has two clusters
of published works--one in the first decade of the century and one in
the 1930s. This one certainly belongs to the former. But the dates are
almost irrelevant, in this case, since OED completely omits the gloss[,
but that might be due to the fact that all three citations came from the
same author].

Everybody's Magazine, Vol. 29, 1913, p. 346
> We looked at each other; the leathernecks squawked outside; the dogs
> of the village began that peculiarly mournful, wolflike howling that
> native dogs always do set up about sunset.
[copies scanned at Indiana and Michigan, snippets only--US publication,
but not the setting]

[PS: Found it! Published separately the following year, and, of course,
it's another book by Beatrice Ethel Grimshaw, The Sorcerer's Stone. The
sentence is completed above. The setting of the story is Australia.]

Everybody's Magazine, Vol. 31, No. 4, Oct. 1914, p. 554
> Their voices were low and made little sound; there was little sound of
> any kind on the island in these days, save for the wearisome, endless
> rushing of the southeast trade, the quarreling notes
> of leathernecks in the palms, and the high, far scream of parrots,
> red, green, violet, and yellow, flying homeward when the sun went down.
[The publication is US, but the setting is a cruise ship and an island
in Oceania--the story follow Christy Mathewson's Why We Lost Three
World's Championships. p. 537. The author of the story? Yes, Beatrice

A couple of citations refer to "leatherneck" is a type of breed of sheep
in Australia--or, perhaps, to the specific mark that identifies these
sheep, or both. I only found two references to these in two pre-WWI
Australian publications.

Finally, there is one English citation (1907, confirmed) that
specifically footnotes that "leatherneck" is "a term of contempt for
chauffeurs". There is no surprise that this piece of British slang did
not survive.


On 2/21/2010 8:37 PM, Jonathan Lighter wrote:
> ...
>   The same 1929 sports page conveniently contrasts "jarheads" and
> "leathernecks":
> ...
> JL

The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

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