Author, Peter B. Kyne makes mention in his book, Soldiers, Sailors and Dogs, New York: H.C. Kinsey & Co., 1936 of what appears to be a number of expressions that probably originated during the Spanish/American War and which might have survived until the early part of American involvement in World War I. Kyne evidently had some military experience or knowledge thereof. In his book, some of the fictional stories occur in America and in France during the World War. Kyne uses such expressions as:
“Bluebird”-evidently a reference to someone who left the service for a period of time and then re-enlisted in the army. The connotation could be made here with the homing instinct of a bluebird, which returns to the same nest year after year. Lighter makes no mention of this term.
“Bob” -a dishonorable discharge from the service. To receive a “bob” or to be “bobbed” was to get a dishonorable discharge. “Bobtail” is the Indian Wars slang for a dishonorable discharge. “His bobtail’s coming back by mail, O’Reilly’s gone to hell.”
In Paul Dickson’s book, War Slang…we read: “bobtailed. Dishonorably discharged; from the practice of removing (“bobbing”) the portion of discharge papers that confers honor. Dickson, Paul. War Slang…Pocket Books, 1994, page 44. Also the act of cutting off the discharge below the character section denoted “no character.” Rickey, Forty Miles a Day on Beans and Hay.
Elting’s “A Dictionary of Soldier Talk” features the definition “bobtailed discharge-bobtail (Old, Old Army). A discharge from the service under less than honorable conditions. Not a dishonorable discharge, but the next thing to it. The term came from the practice of clipping off the final section of the discharge form, which covered the dischargee’s character. In World War II called a ‘discharge without honor.’
In his article “Slang of the American Expeditionary Forces in Europe, 1917-1919 (American Speech, 1972) Joathan Lighter identifies:
–bobtail as dishonorable discharge, an expression dating back to the U.S. Army of the late 19th century.
Paul Dickson’s “War Slang” has “bobtail hotel-an army disciplinary barracks.”
“Soldier up to the handle” was to be an exemplary soldier. To “the handle” of what?
“Fogie”-a service stripe. Lighter makes no mention of this term.
Elting also has “fogy, fogey, fogie (All Services). A word whose origin and history would probably be very interesting, if precisely known. The earliest form, which is civilian and from the middle of the 18th century, is “fogram,” meaning a superannuated person, an old fuddyduddy. 1. (Late 18th and early 19th Centuries, British and American). An old or invalided soldier; hence, a garrison soldier. 2. (19th Century, with some survivals; USA) Longevity pay, increase of pay for length of service. “I get another fogy next month, but my wife’s already spending it.” Also called fogey pay, fogy pa. Both fogy and fogy pay (with variants) are now becoming obsolete.
Dickson’s “War Slang” offers a similar, much shorter, definition without reference to date or the background. Lighter says that Fogy or fogey was a longevity bonus paid to officers and NCO’s dating back to the Civil War; from “old fogey.”
In the late 1960’s a “fogie” was an incremental step in your pay due to longevity. It may be that it is the outgrowth of the service stripe since service stripes were awarded for longevity.
One correspondent sent in that fact that his father was in the U.S. Army from 1910 to 1940 and that during that period of time the army slang for a “loose woman” was “biscuit shooter.” Nothing is known of the origin of this expression.
Are these all Spanish-American war army expressions and did any of them survive until World War I? Although author Kyne uses these expressions in the context of Spanish-American War veterans serving in the U.S. Army during World War I, I have never seen these terms used in any other American World War I writings.
Dickson, Paul. War Slang. NY: Pocket Books, 1994
Elting, A Dictionary of Soldier Talk.
Kyne, Peter B. SOLDIERS, SAILORS and DOGS. NY: H. C. Kinsey & Co., 1936.
Lighter, Jonathan. “Slang of the American Expeditionary Forces in Europe, 1917-1919. American Speech, 1972.