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Origins of the Word "Gook"

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We scoured the internet for all the information we could find on this subject. One can read for the better part of a day on this subject. The following is representative of the generally accepted origins of this word. If you are truly interested, we would recommend that you read all of the information presented before making "your" decision.

Origins of the word "Gook".

There are many sources given to indicate the origin of the term "gook"
to be the Korean term for American that was then commandeered by American
soldiers.  The other explanation from the "The RANDOM HOUSE HISTORICAL
DICTIONARY OF AMERICAN SLANG traces "gook" back before Korea, with the
first written use being in THE NATION in 1920, referring to Haitians." 

Despite these explanations, I agree with Edward and Paula Trout in their 
explanation that the term "gook" came out of the American experience 
in the Philippine War, 1899-1902.  My reading on the subject indicates that 
the term evolved from an attempt by American soldiers to mimic the various 
Filipino languages that the U.S. soldiers derisively described as "dog 
languages."  The first impression of the language was "goo-goo" or "gugu," 
and evolved into "gook."  This term was quickly used to describe not only 
the language, but also the Filipinos themselves.  After its origin in the 
Philippines, the term "gook" was easily transferable to any situation 
pitting Americans against Asians. 

Below are a variety of sources describing origin of the term "gugu" or 
"googoo," during the Philippine War, 1899-1902. 

"[American soldiers] addressed the Filipinos as 'gugus.'"[1] 

"Claude F. Line, a young private, described not only his love of home and 
family, but also his delight at terrifying two Filipino civilians. 'They 
were the first goo-goos I ever saw turn white.'"[2] 

"In the Philippines from 1899 to 1902, U.S. troops waged a bloody conflict 
with Filipinos-they called them 'gooks'-who were resisting American 
colonization"[3] 

"In the jargon of American troops, as Stuart Creighton Miller has 
documented in great detail, the Filipinos were 'treacherous 
savages,' and 'treacherous gugus' (or goo-goos)-the latter reemerging in 
World War Two as 'gook'-and the fighting was called 'Injun warfare.'"[4] 

A soldier of the Ninth Regiment, as the unit embarked on a particularly 
daunting mission to the island of Samar, commented that the island was "the 
heart of googooland."[5] 

"Later generations of U.S. troops in Asia were to pin derisive labels on 
the natives, like 'slopies' for Chinese and 'gooks' for Koreans and 
Vietnamese.  The early Americans to reach the Philippines referred 
to Filipinos as 'gugus'-an epithet 


> So, we have "gook" used c. 1900 in the Philippines, and another 
> independent origin in 1945-1950 in Korea. 
> What was the etymological origin of the 1900 usage? It couldn't 
> have been the Korean language as in 1945-50. Was it some native 
> Tagalong word, or (I'm just speculating) perhaps from 
> German "guck," meaning "look." 
> Was there continued use of "gook" between 1910 and 1945? If so, 
> referring to whom? Can any connection be made between the c. 1900 
> Philippines and the Korean War? 
> I lastly propose that the use of "gook" in Vietnam was certainly a 
> carryover from the Korean War. 

I would confidently say that there's a continuum of use of the word in the 
armed services, and that it wasn't a new thing to the men and women in 
Korea (or Vietnam, for that matter). 

The FACTS ON FILE ENCYCLOPEDIA OF WORD AND PHRASE ORIGINS traces it to 
"goo-goo" and "gu-gu", "military names for a Filipino during the 
Spanish-American War." (No reference given for this) 

The RANDOM HOUSE HISTORICAL DICTIONARY OF AMERICAN SLANG gives a number of 
uses for "gook" after 1920: 1921, with reference to the Philippines. 1927, 
re: Filipinos. 1927, re: Nicaraguans. 1928: re: Filipinos. 1934, Mencken's 
AMERICAN LANGUAGE says "The Marines in Nicaragua [1912-1913] called the 
natives 'gooks.' Those of Costa Rica are sometimes called goo-goos." 1935, 
re: Filipinos and Spanish speakers in general. 1935, re: Hawaiians. 1940, 
re: Filipinos. 1944, re: "South Seas Natives." 1944 (Ernie Pyle), re: 
Italians. (But not, per Pyle, in a bad way). 1945: re: Italians (this time 
in a bad way). 
1945, (from YANK), "The Japanese...are known among GIs as 'gooks,' the GI 
name for all natives in the Pacific." 1946, re: Italians. 
1947, re: Japanese. 1947, re: Koreans. 1950, re: Koreans. 1951, re: Chinese 
Communists. 1951-1952, re: Koreans. 1952, re: Mexicans. 
1952, re: "Southern Europeans." 1954, re: "Melanesians." 1958, re: 
Romanians or Yugoslavians.(!) 1959, re: the English(!!) 1959 (from 
Burroughs' NAKED LUNCH), could be anyone. 1960, re: Indians (Asian). 
1962, re: the enemy ("It's a gook sub...it ain't one of ours"). 1963, re: 
Nicaraguans. 1965, re: New Zealanders.(!) 1965, "A gook in the purest sense 
is anybody what ain't American." 1967, re: Vietnamese. 
1970, (from S. J. Perelman, of all people), re: Indians (Asian). 

Jess Nevins 
Reference Librarian 
Angleton (TX) P.L. 


Veterans of the Korean war and post-war occupation and operations in ROK 
will say that "gook" was a word appropriated from the Koreans. That is what 
I learned from those vets and that has always been my understanding of the 
word. 

I agree with Mark Conrad's last comment: "gook" certainly was a carryover 
term in Vietnam. 

However, in my experience other terms were more prevalent than "gook" in 
Vietnam, examples being "slopes," "slopeheads," "dinks," "zips" and maybe 
one or two I can't remember, for all Vietnamese. The enemy was referred to 
as Viet Cong, Cong, V.C., Victor Charlie, Sir Charles and maybe one or two 
I can't remember. Many referred to all enemy personnel as Viet Cong, 
whether actually V.C. or North Vietnamese Army (NVA), which was actually 
People's Army of Vietnam (PAVN). I am reminded from my exchange last year 
with a Special Forces veteran who simply referred to all the enemy as Viet 
Cong. Not that it made much difference if you were on the receiving end of 
Charlie's attention. 

In the movie, 'Platoon', Director Oliver Stone and Marine script and 
technical consultant Dale Dye have the soldiers saying things like; 
"There's gooks everywhere"; and, "They're speaking gook". 

I always figured that the use of "gook" in Vietnam was derived from G.I.'s 
that had previously served in Korea and the other terms hadn't caught on. 

Me personally, after being overwhelmed by the cultural shock I was trained 
to cope with, I developed cultural fatigue along with complete frustration 
and was occasionally heard referring to "slopinese" and "zipanese," but 
never as "gook." There were always ROK troops around to help make the 
distinction clear for me. 

Those are some really interesting comments about "gook" possibly 
originating in the Philippines or even Haiti. 

Richard Rongstad 
CWO2 USN (Ret.) 
Republic of Vietnam 1969-1970

 
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