by Cynthia C. Scott
Wartime has historically introduced an influx of new words into the English language. That was the case during the Norman Conquest when Norman conquerors brought French loanwords into the English continent, often replacing Old English terms. Though this was at the beginning of the lexical changes that became what we now know as present day English, war continues to influence our language in countless ways. The Vietnam war, for instance, brought in a new set of terms that continue to be used to this day.
When Vietnam vets returned home from the war, they introduced terminology and slang that was commonplace within the military into the language. These terms are composed of French/Vietnamese words that were spoken by the Vietnamese natives and adopted by soldiers and, in some cases, turned into pidgin words; compounds of English words, creating new terms; or acronyms and the abbreviations of words or terms.
Boo-coo: a bastardized French word, derived from beaucoup, meaning "much" or "many."
Bummer: bad luck, a real drag, i.e. "That's a bummer, man."
Charlie: Viet cong; the enemy, i.e., "Charlie Don't Surf."
Cluster f**k: disorganized. Any planned attempt or operation that turned bad.
Crispy critters: burn victims.
Dap: elaborate and ritualized handshakes often performed by Black soldiers involving a series of slaps and fingersnaps.
Fatigues: standardized combat uniforms, usually green, matching the jungle environs of Vietnam.
Firefight: a battle or exchange of small weapons fire with the enemy.
Flaky: to be mentally confused, spacey, or to be in a state in which one is unreasonably frightened.
FUBAR: F***d Up Beyond All Reason.
Fugazi: f***d up or screwed up.
Glad bag: body bag.
Gung Ho: Vietnamese word meaning enthusiastic.
Hooch: a hut or simple dwelling.
Hump: march or hike carrying a rucksack; to perform an arduous task.
Lit-up: fired upon; shot and killed or wounded.
Mama-san: pidgin for older Vietnamese woman.
Napalm: jellied petroleum substance that burns quickly and is used as a weapon or defoliation.
Net: radio frequency setting, from "network."
No sweat: easy, simple; "no problem."
Post-traumatic stress disorder: a disorder characterized by the development of symptoms brought about by an abnormally traumatic experience.
Red alert: urgent warning.
Rules of Engagement: specific regulations governing conduct and behavior, particularly during wartime.
Saddle-up: to ready oneself for something.
Sampan: a Vietnamese peasant boat.
Search and Destroy: an operation in which an area is searched and then destroyed.
Skate: a task that requires very little effort; to take it easy.
Stand-Down: An infantry's return from the jungle or a unit that has been withdrawn from Vietnam and redeployed to the U.S.
Tee-tee: pidgin for very small.
Tight: close friendships, i.e., "Bobby and Jimmy were tight."
Walking wounded: wounded who are still ambulatory without assistance.
Wasted: Killed, i.e. "He wasted that dude."
Widow maker: An MA.
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