12 Best Entries from the Vietnam War Slang Dictionary

If you’re a sensitive soul, turn back now.

Ugly wars bred ugly words, and the American war in Vietnam was uglier than most. Vietnam War Slang, an impressive trove compiled by Tom Dalzell, exposes underlying fears and attitudes about the war in a way few books can manage. The slang used by Americans in Vietnam can betray deep cynicism, racism, creativity, graveyard humour, and rarely, hope.

Having collected his words from a library’s worth of original sources, Dalzell gives words, their definition, their earliest recorded usage, their etymology, and a few examples from actual texts, a nice touch that will add to your reading list.

Once again, though, prepare for ugly reading.

Bell Telephone Hour

A session of torture in which US soldiers used the electricity from field telephones to shock suspected Viet Cong.

Cannon Cocker

A member of an artillery unit.


In the military, assigned to a rear-echelon support job.

Double Digit Midget

A soldier with less than 100 days left in their tour of duty.

Hamburger Hill

Dong Ap Bia Mountain in South Vietnam, close to the Laos border. Taken at great cost by the US Marines in battle in May 1969, and then quietly abandoned a week later. Of marginal tactical important and ultimately symbolic of the lack of military vision.


A recent graduate of the US Army’s Officer Candidate School.

Organized Chicken Shit

Officer Candidate School.

Rice Krispie Mission

A bombing mission intended to destroy a rice crop.

Saigon Cowboy

A rear-echelon troop or civilian who dressed the part of a combat soldier but did not experience combat.

Trial by Urine

Urinalysis, first mandated by President Nixon in June, 1971.


Used as an anti-authority slogan. IN the late 1960’s, some soldiers in Vietnam began to write UUUU on their helmet liners, meaning the unwilling, led by the unqualified, doing the unnecessary, for the ungrateful.

Voting Machine

An ARVN M24 tank. From the perception that the military controlled the civilian government.

Dave Robson is the editor of DailyXY. He spends his time reading books, drinking Scotch, and smoking cigars.

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