Taking a look through his scope, U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Kimo L. Griggs, an infantry squad leader from Maui, Hawaii, assigned to Company C, 1st Battalion, 327th Infantry Regiment (Task Force Bulldog), 101st Airborne Division, scans the Pech River Valley for insurgent movement in eastern Afghanistan's Kunar province Nov. 20. 2010. US Army photo by Staff Sgt. Mark Burrell.
Whether you stormed the beaches of Normandy or you just graduated basic training six months ago, you’ve heard it before. The derogatory nickname for non-infantry troops — probably uttered by an 03 with a single noncombat deployment under his tan MCMAP belt, or by a 19-year-old paratrooper who believes his jump wings are still relevant — is meant to diminish the work of rear-echelon personnel and reinforce the notion that they only exist to support the trigger-pullers on the front lines. In other words: to remind them that they are not at the so-called “tip of the spear,” but rather somewhere close to the bottom of the shaft. Despite the fact that the insult goes back generations, nobody, whether they’re FNGs or old-timers, can seem to agree — is it POG or pogue? It’s time to settle the debate once and for all.
Soldiers from Charlie Company, 2-116th Cavalry Brigade Combat Team, Idaho Army National Guard, practice combined arms battalion, squad level infantry movements on the Orchard Combat Training Center, Jan. 20, 2019. US Army photo by Thomas Alvarez.
The term "pogue" in the US military can be traced at least as far back as World War I, when Marines used it as a homosexual slur. Derived, according to some, from “pòg” — the Gaelic word for “kiss” — pog was often spelled as pogue. According to The Other Side of Silence: Men’s Lives and Gay Identities by John Lougherty, during the early 20th century, a gay man who enjoyed receptive anal sex was sometimes called a “punk” or a “pogue.” So during a time when mainstream American society still viewed homosexuality as taboo — and being gay got you kicked out of the military — calling someone a pogue was a harsh insult.
In his book FUBAR Fucked Up Beyond All Recognition: Soldier Slang of World War II, Gordon Rottman notes that by the 1940s Marine drill instructors used "pogue" liberally, flinging it at anyone they believed lacked esprit de corps, didn’t work hard enough, or didn’t deserve to wear an Eagle, Globe, and Anchor (which, in the eyes of a drill instructor, is just about everyone).
US Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Seth Smith, automatic rifleman, 1st Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment, 2nd Marine Division, engages targets with his M27 Infantry Automatic Rifle, during a live fire and movement range on Berga Naval Base, Sweden, Sept. 14, 2022. US Marine Corps photo by 1st Lt. William Reckley.
Yet Rottman theorizes that the original term was actually “poggy,” derived from a Chinese word for barter. This theory might help explain the popular term “pogey bait,” which is still used by service members to refer to snacks or other luxury goods like dip and cigarettes — luxuries rear-echelon types get to indulge in while the grunts are surviving on scraps out in the field. Another theory is that "pogey bait" was once used by troops to describe certain commodities that were often traded for sexual favors, hence the connection with the homosexual slur derived from Gaelic.
Today, many, if not most, service members understand POG to be an acronym for “Person Other than Grunt.” One possibility is that POG is a backronym coined by support troops with the hopes of distancing themselves from the term’s homophobic origins. However, in her book, In the Field: The Language of the Vietnam War, Linda Reinberg claims the acronym POG predates “pogue,” suggesting that by the time America was knee-deep in the jungles of Vietnam, the acronym had already been largely phased out of the military lexicon and was replaced by “pogue” as a blanket derogatory term for anyone with a non-infantry MOS. And yet, the author Paul Dickson, in his book War Slang: American Fighting Words and Phrases Since the Civil War, essentially argues the opposite, positing that POG, the acronym, didn’t even exist until 2005. According to Dickson, the Global War on Terror generation typically uses the acronym, rather than the bastardization of the Gaelic pòg, because the insult no longer carries homophobic connotations.
US Army Capt. Mark Moretti engages an enemy combatant after an improvised explosive device is triggered, targeting a dismounted patrol of Army soldiers outside Korengal Outpost during Operation Mountain Descent 2, April 6, 2010. US Army photo by Spc. Victor Egorov.
Today, older veterans like to argue that the real term is spelled pogue and that millennials changed it to POG. But it looks like the old heads might be wrong on this one: Pòg — changed to the phonetically friendly pogue — came first, and likely morphed into an acronym during the 1960s or later, when the term became a nickname intended specifically for the likes of desk jockeys and pencil pushers (rather than homosexuals). So that settles it. Pogue predates POG as a popular slang word in the US military, but not as a derogatory term for rear-d types. When referring to people outside the infantry, POG is the correct term.
But does the spelling really matter? No, of course not. Because at the end of the day, a POG is still a pogue, no matter how you spell it, and if you’re the kind of soldier or Marine who gets worked up about which spelling is technically correct, you probably need to loosen up your reflective PT belt and stop acting like such a fucking POG.
Mac Caltrider is a senior staff writer for Coffee or Die Magazine. He served in the US Marine Corps and is a former police officer. Caltrider earned his bachelor’s degree in history and now reads anything he can get his hands on. He is also the creator of Pipes & Pages, a site intended to increase readership among enlisted troops. Caltrider spends most of his time reading, writing, and waging a one-man war against premature hair loss.
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