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February 12, 2004

Slang of the Week: frag (verb)
To kill one’s commanding officer with a fragmentation bomb or grenade

No one was willing to say who had fragged Lt. Baker by throwing a grenade into his tent. They had all wanted to do it.

Celebrity quote:
“One of the things almost nobody talks about is the fraggings. The boy scouts, the wannabe heroes, the John Waynes, the guys who buy the bullshit, the control freaks who really think they’re in charge, the guys who want their purple hearts and their little medals, I mean they really want it—the clowns who simply will not leave you alone—these were the guys who got fragged.”
- Novelist Larry Heinemann

Originally a military term from the Vietnam War, frag is just one of many American soldiers’ terms to enter everyday English. These days, frag is used not to talk about real death but about the virtual killing of characters in video games.

Another well known military slang term comes from a 1961 novel by Joseph Heller. In that story, soldiers eager to leave World War II hoped to get sent home by proving their insanity. However, there was a problem. “…That was Catch-22, which specified that a concern for one’s safety in the face of dangers that were real and immediate was the process of a rational mind.”

So if a man asked not to go on a dangerous mission, he was sane and had to keep fighting. If he were really crazy, he'd want to go. Catch-22 is now used to talk about any impossible problem, like needing experience to get a job and needing a job to get experience.

One word that has lost its military flavor entirely is doughboy, which was once the nickname of WWI infantrymen. Four years after Heller released Catch-22, Pillsbury introduced “Poppin Fresh”, more popularly known as the Pillsbury Doughboy™. This round advertising character is no doubt the image that evil Mimi had in mind on the Drew Cary Show in the 1990s. Her trademark insult to the heavyset Drew was, “Bite me, doughboy!” (I hate you, fat man.)

What’s new at Slang City?
“Dribble off those Bobby Brooks, Let me do what I please.” What are Bobby Brooks? Find out in our Standard English translation of the 1982 classic Jack and Diane, by John Cougar Mellencamp