ARMY TALK IN VIETNAM
FROM A (ao dai) to Z (zoomie)
Times Staff Writer
WASHINGTON--If, as Emerson said, language is the archives of history, then U.S.
soldiers in Vietnam are writing history with words as well as weapons.
- So many slang terms, Vietnamese words and specialized usages are used by
U.S. soldiers in Vietnam that language poses a bit of a problem to the new
man coming over. Until he picks up the current slang, he is marked as a
- With the Vietnam-bound replacement in mind, Army Times has compiled the
following list of non-standard terms used in Vietnam.
- Each Vietnam-bound soldier should find several terms below which will
speed his adjustment to Vietnam.
- ao dai ("owzeye"): the native costume of Vietnamese
women. It has a mandarin collar and is very tight in the bodice with the
skirt split to the waist. Worn over loose silk pants.
- ba muoi lam ("baa-mooee-lahm): Vietnamese for the number
35. a brand of beer.
- ba muoi lam ("baa-mooee-lahm): Vietnamese for the number
35. Means the same as "butterfly;" a playboy.
- beaucoup: from the French. In Vietnam it can mean many, much,
big, huge, very, etc.
- betel nut ("beetle nut"): the leaves or root of the
betel palm, which are mildly narcotic and are chewed by many Vietnamese,
especially aged women, to relieve the pain of diseased gums. The
cumulative effect of years of betel nut chewing is to totally blacken
- broken arrow: serviceman who tried to be a straight arrow and
failed. (See straight arrow.)
- butterfly: playboy.
- buy the farm: to be killed. Sometimes "buy the
- cam on "cahm oon"): Vietnamese for "thank
- Canh Sat ("cahn zaht"): White mice. (which see.)
- chao co (ong) (em) (pronounced "chow coh (ohm) (em)"):
Vietnamese for hello or good-bye, Miss (Sir) (to a child, animal or very
- cheap charlie: anyone, especially a U.S. serviceman, who does
not waste his money. (See "plenty cheap charlie.")
- Chieu Hoi ("chew hoyee"): the Vietnamese-administered
"Open Arms" program for defecting enemy soldiers. (See
- chop-chop: food, or eat.
- CIDG: Civilian Irregular Defense Group. Friendly indigenous
forces, usually organized and led by Army Special Forces teams.
- Coka: Vietnamese pronunciation of "Coke."
- coup qualified: very old Viet hands, and only those who served
in Saigon during a violent overthrow of a Vietnamese government, are
said to be "coup qualified."
- cowboy: a Vietnamese ruffian.
- crow's foot: a four-pointed booby trap device which, when
thrown, will land with one point up.
- C's: "C" rations.
- cycle: three-wheeled motorized conveyance with a seat on the
- day off: see "khong lau."
- dep lam ("dep lahm"): Vietnamese for "too pretty
- dep qua ("dep whah"): Vietnamese for
- dep trai ("dep cheye"): Vietnamese for
- di di (mau) ("dee-dee (maow)"): Vietnamese for
"go away (fast)."
- dien cai dao ("dee-in-kee-daow"): Vietnamese for
"crazy in the head."
- Disneyland Far East: Hq building of the U.S. Military
Assistance Comd Vietnam. Name is derived from "Disneyland
East" (the Pentagon).
- dolphin: a five-ton tractor. (See "guppy.")
- dung lai (pronouneed "zoong lye"): Vietnamese for
"halt" or "stop."
- duster: a 25-ton tank armed with twin 40mm cannon.
- dustoff: the medevac helicopter system.
- FAC: forward air controller. A light plane pilot who directs
air strikes and artillery fire from the air.
- FIGMO: acronym for "Finally I get my orders."
Especially in "figmo chart," a shortimer's calendar, usually a
drawing of an undraped female form, with numbered sections which are
filled in, one each day, as the shorttimer keeps track of days to go.
- fini: from the French. Vietnamese meanings include through,
finished, depart (as in, "When you fini Vietnam, GI?") and
even kill (as is, "She fini him with knife.").
- flower seeker: a term used, especially in the Vietnamese press,
to describe a man in search of a prostitute.
- freedom bird: a jet aircraft which flies returning servicemen
to the U.S.
- FSA: forward support area (or activity); one-stop service base
established by logistical units near an operation or forward base camp.
- grunt: noun, an infantryman, especially a marine
- gunship: armed helicopter with the primary mission of fire
- guppy: a stake-and-platform trailer of the type pulled by a
five-ton tractor. (See "dolphin.")
- Hanoi Hannah: the Tokyo Rose of the Vietnam war.
- headman: the boss man of a local community. His word is usually
- Ho Chi Minh sandals: sandals made from worn-out truck tires.
- Ho Chi Minh trail: the complex of jungle paths through Laos and
Cambodia which serves as the principle Viet Cong and NVA supply route.
- Hoi Chanh (pronounced "hoyee cahn"): a returnee. An
enemy soldier who voluntarily gave himself up. Many are employed by the
Vietnamese government or the U.S. Army.
- Hong Kong rubber: the variety used by many Vietnamese girls to
help them put on a good front. Standing joke among Vietnam-based
servicemen: "And to think I could have bought stock in Hong Kong
Rubber when it was down to 31."
- Howard Jobnson's: any of a multitude of pushcart vendors
selling food in the street.
- idiot stick: 1, a rifle 2. the curved yoke used by Vietnaese,
usually old women or children, to carry two rice baskets, water buckets
or what have you, one hung from each end of the yoke.
- Incoming! (always exclamatory): "Hit the dirt!"
- incountry: in Vietnam.
- Khong lau (pronounced "kohng laow"): Vietnamese for
- lai day (pronounced "lye dye"): Vietnamese for
- lam on (pronounced "lahm oon"): Vietnamese for
- LBJ: 1. Long Binh Jail; the USARV Stockade, 2. Camp Long Binh
Junction, home of the 90th Replacement Bn, through which most individual
replacements are processed.
- lima charlie: international phonetic alphabet words for
"LC," short for "loud and clear" in Army radio
- LZ: landing zone.
- Malayan gate: a booby trap device which depends on a ful-crum
for action and usually employs spikes as the killing device. Devised by
Malay communists during their unsuccessful 10 year fight against the
- mau len (pronounced "maow len"): Vietnamese for fast,
or speed. As in, "Let's mau len it up a bit, Papasan."
- medevac: short for medical evacuation.
- Mike Boat: landing craft, mechanized.
- numbah-one GI: serviceman who spends a good deal of money on
the Vietnamese economy.
- numbah-ten GI: serviceman who spends little money on the
Vietnamese economy, or one who refuses to make a proposed purchase.
- nuoc mam ("noouk mom"):. the Vietnamese national
dish; fermented fish sauce.
- pedicab: a foot-powered cyclo.
- plastic: type of explosives favored by sappers. As in, "I
was in the middle of a steak at the Hoa Lu BEQ when they found 200
pounds of plastic behind the bar, so I stuck my fork in my steak and
di-di-maued." (which see)
- plenty cheap charlie: one who wastes even less money than an
ordinary cheap charlie.
- P's: piastres; basic Vietnamese monetary unit. $1 equals 118
piastres, as this is written.
- Puff: originally "Puff the Magic Dragon"; a C-47
armed with miniguns or other rapid fire weapons.
- punji stick: sharpened stake, usually bamboo, planted in the
ground with the point sticking up. Often used in booby traps and often
employed with the point smeared with feces as a poisoning element.
- Quan Canh (pronounced "kwuhn kein"): Vietnamese
- Rats: an "in" term used by some Saigon warriors for
- Real Life (always capitalized): civilian life. As in,
"What do you do in Real Life, Jonesie?"
- Redball: 1. the system used in Vietnam to expedite delivery of
critical supplies and repair parts. 2. Camp Redball, a small base camp
near Go Vap, a Saigon suburb.
- RF/PF: Regional Forces/Popular Forces.
- rice wine: an alcoholic drink, very inexpensive, made from
rice. Usually tastes like kerosene.
- Rog (pronounced "rahj"): short for "Roger,"
the radio term for "I read (understand) your transmission."
Also, in the expression, "That's a Rog, Baby" (That's right).
- roundeye: Caucasian woman.
- Saigon Tea: colored water (sometimes soda) purchased in
thimble-size glasses as the price of a hostess' company in a bar or
nightclub. The hostess gets a commission, and she can drink as many as
the customer can buy, as fast as he can buy them.
- Saigon warrior: drugstore soldier, especially one who serves or
has served in Saigon.
- so mot ("sah maht"): Vietnamese for "numbah
one," the best.
- so mudi (sah mooee"): Vietnamese for "numbah
10," the worst.
- sapper: a soldier, especially an enemy soldier, whose job is to
blow things up.
- siesta: Vietnam quits from noon to 2:30 p.m. This period of
each day is known as siesta.
- slick: transport helicopter. (See "gunship.")
- STIF: acronym for "Saigon Tea Is Fini," a now-defunct
organization formed to combat increases in the price of Saigon Tea.
Members would fill a bar which had raised its prices and sit sipping
beer without buying Tea. Their "drink-ins" met with limited
- straight arrow: serviceman who remains faithful to his wife or
Stateside girl friend throughout his Vietnam tour. (See "broken
- the country store: any one of thousands of village shops
catering to U.S. servicemen.
- the 'Nam: Vietnam.
- The Pill: any one of several types of tablets taken weekly by
all servicemen in Vietnam as a defense against most types of malaria.
- The World (always capitalized): the U.S.A. As in, "Where
you from back in The World, Sarge?"
- ti ti ("tee-tee"): Vietnamese for "small."
- Toi khong biet ("toy kohng bee-ech"): Vietnamese for
"I don't know" or "I don't understand."
- Toi yen em (nhieu lam) ("toy you em (nyoo lahm)":
Vietnamese for "I love you (too much)."
- tomorrow: never make a date for "tomorrow" with a
Vietnamese girl. "'Tomorrow' nevah come in Vietnam, GI."
- troi oi ("choyee oyee"): an emphatic expression in
Vietnamese which can mean just about anything the user wants it to mean.
Troi duc oi (choyee duck oyee) is the same expression more emphatically
- upcountry: any place outside the Saigon-Long Binh-Bien Hoa
- USELESS: homonymic pun on USIS, the United States Information
VC: enemy soldiers
- white mice: the Canh Sat; the Vietnamese national police force.
Its members wear white shirts.
- white space: the most prevalent element on the front pages of
the best Vietnamese newspapers when censorship is in effect, which is
- Wickham trolley: an armored railroad locomotive of the type
developed by the British during the Malayan rebellion.
- xau lam ("saow lahm"): Vietnamese for "numbah
ten thousand" (indescribably bad.).
- xin loi ("sin loyee"): Vietnamese for "Sorry
- 'Yard: short for Montagnard, a French word meaning;
"mountaineer." Member of any one of a number of semi-nomadic,
aboriginal tribes which live in the mountains of Vietnam.
- zap: to kill or seriously wound.
- Zoomie: jet jockey.