Burns and Novick: The Vietnam War (6)

More about how the Vietnam War series misidentified the sources of GI slang in Vietnam and terms the series didn’t mention:

“Number one,” “number ten,” and “gook” were just the beginning. GIs used “dinky dow” to mean “crazy.” It’s a corruption of the Vietnamese điên cái đâu (down tone on the last word) which means “crazy in the head.” From “dinky dow” came “dink,” meaning a Vietnamese. Then there was “chop-chop,” meaning “fast,” borrowed from Chinese; “deedee mow,” meaning “hurry” from the Vietnamese đi đi mau which means “go fast;” and many others. We also used “zip” as a pejorative term for a Vietnamese. And we called them “slopes,” referring to the oriental slanted eye.

The Burns-Novick series is not alone in its misinterpretation of the sources of American military slang in Vietnam. For reasons I don’t understand, histories of the war and otherwise well-founded documentaries frequently fail to comprehend how we Americans created the terms we used during the Vietnam war. I suspect our misunderstanding is a symptom of America’s superiority complex. But that’s a subject for another day.

More on the Burns-Novick series tomorrow.

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