The Language of the Vietnam War from A to Z.
The good, the bad and the ugly (obscenity). Didn't find a word or phrase that you
were looking for? Thought that it should be on the list? Well, submit your
entry to WarLanguage@ktroop.com.
AIRBURST: explosion of a munition in the air
AIR CAV: air cavalry, referring to helicopter-borne infantry
AIT: Advanced Individual Training; the period following Basic Training, specialized
training given each soldier based on his MOS (Military Occupational Specialty)
ALPHA-ALPHA: automatic ambush, a combination of claymore mines configured to
detonate simultaneously when triggered by a trip-wire/battery mechanism
ARC LIGHT OPERATIONS: code name for the devastating aerial raids of B-52
Stratofortresses against enemy positions in Southeast Asia, the first B-52 Arc Light raid
took place on June 18, 1965, on a suspected Vietcong base north of Saigon. In November
1965, B-52s directly supported American ground forces for the first time, and were used
regularly for that purpose thereafter.
ARCOMS: Army Commendation Medals
ARTICLE 15: summary disciplinary judgement of a soldier by his commander, may
result in fines or confinement in the stockade
ARVN: Army of the Republic of Vietnam (Army of South Vietnam)
BAC SI: Vietnamese term for medical corpsman; doctor
BANANA CLIP: banana shaped magazine, standard on the AK-47 assault rifle
BASE CAMP: semipermanent field headquarters and center for a given unit usually
within that unit's tactical areas responsibility. A unit may operate in or away from its
base camp. Base camps usually contain all or part of a given unit's support elements.
BATTALION: organizational institution in the Army and Marine Corps. Commanded by
a lieutenant colonel, an infantry battalion usually has around 900 people, and an
artillery battalion of about 500 people. During the Vietnam War, American battalions were
usually much smaller than that.
BEEHIVE: a direct-fire artillery round which incorporated steel darts
(fleshettes), used as a primary base defense munition against ground attack
BIRD: any aircraft, usually helicopters
BLUELEG: infantryman, aka "grunt"
BOUNCING BETTY: explosive that propels upward about four feet into the air and
BRIGADE: basic military organizational institution. During the Vietnam War, a
division was organized into three brigades, with each brigade commanded by a colonel. A
division consists of approximately 20,000 people.
BRING SMOKE: to direct intense artillery fire on an enemy position
BUTTER BARS *2 -
a derogatory term for a second lieutenant.
CAV: nickname for air cavalry
C & C: command and control
- Combat Vehicle Crewman. The Army's designation given to helmets worn by
crewmembers of tanks, APC, ACAVs and other vehicles.
CHARLIE, CHARLES, CHUCK: Vietcong--short for the phonetic representation Victor
CHERRY: a new troop replacement
CHICKEN PLATE: chest protector (body armor) worn by helicopter gunners
CHURCH KEY: bottle opener
CLACKER: firing device ('exploder') for triggering claymore mines and other
electrically initiated demolitions
CLAYMORE: popular fan-shaped antipersonnel land mine; designed to produce a
directionalized, fan-shaped pattern of fragments.
COMIC BOOKS (FUNNY BOOKS): military maps
COMPANY: organizational institution commanded by a captain and consisting of two
or more platoons; varied widely in size according to mission.
CONSTANTINE WIRE: like barbed wire, this razor sharp wire was more
CONG: see Viet Cong
CRACKER BOX: field ambulance
C's: C-rations, C-rats, Charlie rats, or combat rations -- canned meals used in
DAP: stylized, ritualized manner of shaking hands, started by African-American
DAPSONE: small pill taken periodically by US troops, ostensibly to prevent
malaria but actually meant to prevent Leprosy.
DINKS*1: - derogatory
slang for the VC or enemy in general.
DINKY DOA: Vietnamese expression, usually directed at GIs meaning
DMZ: demilitarized zone
DONUT DOLLY: American Red Cross Volunteer--female
DOPE: Marine term for the adjustments made to weapon sights; term for marijuana
and other illicit drugs.
DOUBTFULS: indigenous personnel who cannot be categorized as either Vietcong or
civil offenders; suspect personnel spotted from ground or aircraft
DUSTOFF: nickname for a medical evacuation helicopter or mission.
E & E: escape and evasion.
ECM: electronic countermeasures, such as jamming, deception, and detection
ELEPHANT GRASS: tall, sharp-edged grass found in the highlands of Vietnam
EM: enlisted man
FIGHTING HOLE: foxhole with sandbag protection and sometimes an elevated roof of
sheetmetal, reinforced with sandbags. Sized for one or two troops, fighting holes might be
dispersed around a company or battery area for defensive use during a ground attack.
FIRECRACKER: artillery round incorporating many small bomblets which are ejected
over a target area and explode in 'bouncing-betty' fashion almost simultaneously; name
comes from the fast popping sound (best heard at a distance).
FIREFIGHT: exchange of small arms fire between opposing units
FRAG: common term for any grenade
FRAGGING: assassination of an officer by his own troops, usually by means of a
FREEDOM BIRD: any aircraft that took you back to the "world" (U.S.A.).
FRIENDLIES: U.S. troops, allies, or anyone not on the other side
FRIENDLY FIRE: euphemism used during the war in Vietnam to describe air,
artillery, or small-arms fire from American forces mistakenly directed at American
GOOK - Derogatory slang meaning enemy soldier in particular or any
Vietnamese citizen in general.
GREEN-EYE: starlight scope; light amplifying telescope, used to see at night
GRUNT: popular nickname for an infantryman in Vietnam; supposedly derived from
the sound one made from lifting up his rucksack
HANOI HANNAH: Progaganda radio voice broadcast from North Vietnam to
US forces in South Vietnam.
HANOI HILTON: nickname American prisoners of war used to describe the Hoa Loa
Prison in Hanoi
HANOI JANE: Jane Fonda - Hollywood Actress and daughter of Henry Fonda.
Nicknamed "Hanoi Jane" for her anti-war political visit to Hanoi during
the war. Regarded by many as a treasonous act, especially Vietnam vets.
HOOTCH: house, living quarters or a native hut
HUMP: to slog around on foot
IN COUNTRY: Vietnam
IRREGULARS: armed individuals and groups not members of the regular armed
forces, police, or other internal security forces
KIA: Killed In Action
KLICK, K: short for kilometer (.62 miles)
LAGER - Storehouse. A little used phrase to describe our
locations where we stored our supplies, such as ammo, food, fuel, replacement parts and so
LAMBRETTA - a small, motorized conveyance powered by a gasoline engine
and steered like with handle bars much like a motor scooter. The back of the vehicle
had bench seats and could hold approximately 15 to 20 persons.
LAY CHILLY: lie motionless
LEATHERNECK: term for Marine (Marines wore a leather neckband from 1798-1880 for
protection of the neck during sword combat.)
LIFER: career soldier
LIGHT UP: to fire on the enemy
LZ: landing zone
MAD MINUTE: concentrated fire of all weapons for a brief period of time at
MIA: Missing In Action
MOS: Military Occupational Specialty
NEWBIE: any person with less time in Vietnam than the speaker
NUMBER ONE: good
NUMBER TEN: bad (Fuck'n nuber ten - really bad)
NUMBER TEN-THOUSAND: very bad
OUT-COUNTRY: the Southeast Asian conflict outside South Vietnam (i.e., Laos and
North Vietnam, sometimes Thailand, Cambodia, and China)
PLATOON: approximately 45 men belonging to a company. Commanded by a lieutenant,
a platoon is an organizational unit composed of two or more squads.
POW: Prisoner of War
PTSD: post-traumatic stress disorder
PUCKER FACTOR: assessment of the 'fear factor', as in the difficulty or risk
involved in an upcoming mission
RED LZ: landing zone under hostile fire
ROCK 'N' ROLL: to put a M16A1 rifle on full automatic fire
R & R: rest-and-recreation vacation taken during a one-year duty tour in
Vietnam. Out-of-country R & R was at Bangkok, Hawaii, Tokyo, Australia, Hong Kong,
Manila, Penang, Taipei, Kuala Lampur, or Singapore. In-country R & R locations were at
Vung Tau or China Beach
RVN: Republic of Vietnam (South Vietnam)
SAIGON: Capital of South Vietnam
SAIGON SALLY: Radio propaganda voice who operated mobile around the
Saigon area. Directed anti-war propaganda at US troops. Southern counterpart
to Hanoi Hannah but not as well known.
SAPPERS: North Vietnamese Army or Vietcong demolition commandos
SAR: search and rescue
SEARCH AND CLEAR: offensive military operations to sweep through areas to locate
and attack the enemy
SEARCH AND DESTROY: offensive operations designed to find and destroy enemy
forces rather than establish permanent government control; also, called "Zippo
SHAKE n'BAKE: 1. officer straight out of OCS (Officer Candidate School) without
any combat experience. or *2 the derogatory term
applied to a graduate of an accelerated
NCO academy who was then entitled to wear "buck" sergeant stripes.
SHAVE TAIL *2 -
a derogatory term for a second lieutenant.
SHORT, SHORT-TIME, SHORT-TIMER: individual with little time remaining in Vietnam
SHORT TIME - Another Meaning: Sex with a prostitute.
Usually very quickly.
SKATE: goof off
SLEEPER: an undercover agent or a mole
slang for the VC or enemy in general.
SORTIE: one aircraft making one takeoff and landing to conduct the mission for
which it was scheduled
STAND-DOWN: period of rest and refitting in which all operational activity,
except for security, is stopped
VC, CONG: Vietcong
VICTOR CHARLIE: Radio speak for the Viet Cong.
VIETCONG: Communist forces fighting the South Vietnamese government
VIETMINH: Viet Nam Doc Lap Dong Minh Hoi, or the Vietnamese Independence League
WHITE MICE: South Vietnamese police; nickname came from their uniform white
helmets and gloves
WIA: Wounded In Action
(THE) WORLD: United States
ZIPPO: flamethrower; also refers to the popular cigarette lighter of that
ZIPPO MISSION: search and destroy mission
ZULU: casualty report, also the phonetic pronunciation of the letter 'Z'
*1 - John Roach
*2 - Dale Heideman
*3 - Vince Bloom