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H.L. Mencken (1880–1956). The American Language. 1921.

Page 370

very few new coinages. In all departments, in truth, the favorite phrases were not invented in the field but brought from home, e. g., corp for corporal, sarge for sergeant, to salvage for to steal, chow for food. Even gob, doughboy and leatherneck were not new. Gob and leatherneck had been in use in the navy for a long while, though the common civilian designation for a sailor had been jackie. The origin of the terms is much disputed. Gob is variously explained as a derivative from the Chinese (?) word gobshite, and as the old word gob, signifying a large, irregular mass, applied to a new use. The original meaning of gobshite I don’t know. One correspondent suggests that gob was first used to designate sailors because of their somewhat voracious and noisy habits of feeding. He tells a story of an old master-at-arms who happened into a land aëro-station and found a party of sailors solemnly at table. “My Gawd,” he exclaimed, “lookit the gobs, usin’ forks an’ all!” Doughboy was originally applied to the infantry only. It originated in the fact that infantrymen, on practise marches, were served rations of flour, and that they made crude biscuits of this flour when they halted. Leatherneck needs no explanation. It obviously refers to the sunburn suffered by marines in the tropics. Hard-boiled seems to have originated among the Americans in France. It is one of the few specimens of army slang that shows any sign of surviving in the general speech. The only others that I can think of are cootie, gob, leatherneck, doughboy, frog, and buck-private. Hand-shaker, since the war ended, has resumed its old meaning of an excessively affable man. Top-sergeant, during the war, suffered an interesting philological change, like that already noticed in buncombe. First it degenerated to top-sarge and then to plain top.To a. w. o. l. is already almost forgotten. So is bevo officer. So are such charming inventions as submarine for bed-pan. The favorite affirmations of the army, “I’ll say so,” “I’ll tell the world,” “You said it,” etc., are also passing out. From the French, save for a few grotesque mispronunciations of common French phrases, e. g., boocoop, the doughboys seem to have borrowed nothing whatsoever. To camouflage was already in use in the United States long before the country entered the war, and such aviation terms as ace, chandelle, vrille and glissade were seldom heard outside the air-force.