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Gordon L Rottman
ARRSE Rating
3 Mushroom Heads
Every army has its slang and way of speaking and this often changes from theatre to theatre, war to war, reflecting the social norms that the civilian soldiers have come from plus the local foreign language bastardised and reused. The US soldier or Marine in Vietnam in the 60s and 70s is no different. The author has brought together this lexicon of words and phrases used by ‘Grunts’ in The ‘Nam. Two pieces of slang there with Grunts and The ‘Nam. The second is obvious but the former has a different origin that that I heard many years ago. The author gives it as the ‘low sound made as a soldier rises from a break carrying full equipment’. He also says that this originated with the USMC. The version I heard was it came from the noise made by soldiers as they jumped down from helicopters or trucks. Either works but the second definition is the one that lasts with me.

There are several words which have moved across from British Army slang yet claimed by the author as American. For instance, “choggie” which we know as the Indian sutler who sold the squaddie virtually anything and ran a huge ‘tick-book’, the author uses the word as meaning to move out quickly with an origin from the Korean War where the S Korean army manpacked goods and materials in using a pack called a chige, which morphed to choggie, to finish jobs fast. A good example of Shaw’s ‘two nations divided by a common language’ although in this case it seems four languages – English, US-English, Hindu, Korean!

There are many definitions which are not really slang but genuine army designations such as ‘exploding booby-trapped ammunition’ which is a description, not slang. However, the whole goes together to give a good understanding of soldier-speak in Vietnam.

Being military slang, the book is very definitely non-PC and the author does not attempt to sanitise in any way, which is good and lends authenticity.

There are information sections inserted on the likes of rations and what they contained, which were favourite and which got dumped, another explains the US version of ‘Stolen Valor’ and how it is dealt with, for instanced how to spot a Walt.

The back of the book has several Appendices for Unit Nicknames, then pidgin US-English/ Vietnamese words then one explaining the difference in ranks between US Army, Marines, Navy and Air Force which is handy.

The author is a Vietnam Vet himself and regular soldier. The book is well laid out, easy to follow, but as I said, not necessarily slang. It is the sort of book that would be good for the reader who likes Vietnam books, both fiction and non-fiction, bringing some clarity to some areas. Good for a general look at life ion the 1960s/70s but one thing that comes across fairly clearly is there is very little humour in US military slang. Not a bad book and worth having if you like ‘Nam books.


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