Glossary of Vietnam Terms

Need a Dictionary?

The following was extracted from an article written by Nicholas Sellers entitled “Here’s The Word From Vietnam”, published in the “Army Times”, Pacific Edition, January 7, 1970. (Note: I take no responsibility for miss-spellings, punctuation, and misinterpretations.)

Every profession has its jargon and every war produces its own particular slang, based upon the nomenclature of the equipment used by the troops, on popular military abbreviations, on the language of the country where the action happens to be, or just on words or terms that get made up as they are needed.

Most of these do not seem to last, but a few of them stick – such as “GI” from World War II – and become a permanent part of even the civilian language.

It is interesting to note that the terms “papa-san” and “mama-san” and baby-san”, originally American slang in Korea, have been imported to Vietnam and are now even used by the Vietnamese.

The following words or terms are just a few of the current crop from Vietnam, and are offered not as a guide to what to say, but to help the newcomer understand what some of the natives are saying:

Beaucoup: From the French, meaning “many”. Among the Vietnamese it also means big, much, etc.
Boonies: Short for “boondocks”, meaning the woods, backwoods, jungle.
Bring Smoke On: To bring smoke on someone is to give him a very hard time, usually done by a superior in rank to an inferior, preferably by an unexpected inspection.
Buy the Farm: To get zapped or get greased.
Charley: VC (from the radio terminology “Victor Charlie”). Never referred to as “Charles” as the Saigon-based newspaper reporters would have you believe.
Chieu Hoi: The Vietnamese “open arms” program to encourage VC to defect.
Co: Any young Vietnamese girl (it is Vietnamese for “Miss”, pronounced “koe”).
Coka: Vietnamese pronunciation for “Coke”.
Close enough for government work: A sloppy job but maybe no one will notice.
DEROS: Date of estimated return from overseas service (when you go home). Pronounced “Deeroess”.
Di-Di: (Pronounced “dee-dee”). Vietnamese for “scram”.
Dien-Cai-Dao: (Pronounced “dinky-dow”). Vietnamese for “crazy”. They say all Americans are a little dinky-dow and all Australians are beaucoup dinky-dow.
Drop: (verb): To be made to do push-ups. (From jump school. Such as “I had to drop every time the sergeant looked my way.”)
Dust-off: The medevac helicopter system.
Extend: To extend is to vvoluntarily remain in Vietnam after the completion of a one-year tour of duty.
Fini: From the French, meaning “finished”. Used by the Vietnamese, such as in “GI, when you fini Vietnam?”
Flat: Completely. Such as “we are flat out of ammo”.
Grows Old: Becomes tiresome.
Hairy: Very dangerous.
Hard core: A tough individual, such as a particularly unreconcilable VC.
Hat roi: Vietnamese for “fini” but stronger. If you’re “hat roi”, you’re really “fini”.
Hooch: Any native hut. This word dates from the Korean war.
Incoming: The verbal announcement indicating that enemy mortar rounds are landing.
Incountry: In Vietnam.
LBJ: Long Binh Jail, the military stockade in Vietnam.
Leg: Any non-airborne person. A leg who has no redeeming virtues, such as combat decoration, or a Ranger tab, is a “straight-leg”.
Lima Lima: Landline. Slang for telephone.
Lima Charlie: Loud and Clear.
MACV: (Pronounced “mack-vee”.) Military Advisory Command, Vietnam. In Saigon, this is a lavish headquarters; in the field, small, very poorly supported U.S. advisory teams.
MPC: Military Pay Certificate.
Noojin: Any Vietnamese. From the name “Nguyen”, which is the surname for 50% of the Vietnamese.
Number one: Vietnamese expression for “good”.
Number ten: Vietnamese expression for “bad”.
Number ten thousand: American expression for Vietnam.
P’s: Piastres, the Vietnamese money, worth a little less than a cent.
Rog: (Pronounced “rahj”). Short for “Roger”, radio terminology for “I understand”. Generally used as an affirmative, such as “That’s a rog.” or “Roger on that.”
Round Eyes: Caucasian woman.
Same-same: Vietnamese slang for “same”. (Don’t ask why.)
Scarf up: To collect, or to scrounge.
Ship Home Quatermaster Style: Go home in a coffin.
Short: To be short is to have only a month or two left of the one-year tour of duty in Vietnam.
Smacks: Australian slang for cigarettes.
Smarts: (verb) Pains.
Smokey: Flare ship.
Spooky: C-47 gunship armed with mini-guns.
That’s affirm: That’s right (from “affirmative”, radio expression for “yes”.
Ti-ti: (Pronounced “tee-tee”). Vietnamese slang for “little”.
Upcountry: Any place out of the Saigon-Long Binh-Bien Hoa area, where newspaper reporters don’t go.
Victor Charlie: Radio terminology for VC.
Victor November: Radio terminology for Vietnamese.
VR: A Visual Reconnaissance by air from a light plane.
Wait one: Wait a minute.
Whip it on me: Give it to me.
Yard: Short for Montagnard, from the French, meaning “mountain dwellers”.
Zap: To kill.