WARNING: THIS STORY CONTAINS LANGUAGE THAT MAY HAVE BEEN TYPICALLY HEARD BACK IN THE DAY WHEN WE WERE MUCH LESS SENSITIVE. IF YOU ARE EASILY OFFENDED OR ABOUT TO TESTIFY BEFORE ANY CONGRESSIONAL COMMITTEE ABOUT HOW UNFAIR LIFE IS, PLEASE STOP READING NOW AND GO ABOUT YOUR BUSINESS. THANK YOU.
What’s in a name?
This story probably has more relevance for those of you who served in uniform but is probably not exclusive to service members. Somewhere along the way, you probably had a nickname. Whether it was because your name was difficult to remember or because there was someone else there that had the same name, you were assigned a moniker which became stuck like glue to you.
I had a number of them from early in my career. I am not sure if Bob or Robert threw most people off, but somehow Mac was easier to remember. I went from Mac to Petty Officer Mac to Big Mac to Chief Mac to Mister Mac. Even after the service, Mac stuck around for a long time. Its only been recently that I have become “Bob” again. I will not share some of the more fragrant nicknames I probably had along the way. Old age has helped me to sublimate them in my brain.
SERIOUSLY, IF YOU ARE TROUBLED BY LANGUAGE THAT MAY BE DEEMED INAPPROPRIATE IN A HEARING BEFORE LIBERAL LEGISLATURES THAT IS BEING HELD TO MERELY SHOWCASE A NON-HEALTH CARE RELATED ISSUE AND EMBARRASS OUTSPOKEN PUBLIC FIGURES, GO BACK TO READING YOUR ENTERTAINMENT PAGES ON YAHOO.
In the beginning (boot camp or basic) the nicknames were “group focused”. I always remember the first wake up call I had in Camp Barry as we were blissfully slumbering on our finely prepared beds.
“Reveille reveille up all bunks… hit the deck shitheads. Get your sorry asses out on the grinder in three minutes or you’ll be doing pushups until Christmas.” Of course this was accentuated to a broken broom handle banging on the sides of what we would later learn was a “Shit-can”. I am not sure why they called it that since I never saw anyone actually use it for that purpose. But for the remainder of my career, any object that was used for waste collection was most commonly referred to as a shit can.
The words “shit can” have many uses in the Navy. When you are about to get rid of a disruptive sailor, you are ready to “shit can” them for instance. Shit can’s are not very smart either since anytime someone does something stupid things, they are “as dumb as a shit can”.
Back to the first thought though: shitheads. The Petty Officer who was assigned to greet us that first morning had probably practiced his wording before he got us up at 4:30 that first morning. For a long time, I wondered why he would be so snarly at 4:30 in the morning to a bunch of complete strangers he didn’t know. It finally occurred to me at one point that if he was waking us up at that early hour, he had to have been awoken much earlier. Maybe even before the first pot of coffee was brewed, No wonder he thought we were shitheads.
As we moved through the orientation system, we were treated to many more colorful invectives. Many were family terms of course. Sons of … and Mother… were widely used in a number of circumstances to make a point. I have to admit that after 14 weeks, I not only became numb to it all, I probably added most of the terms to my somewhat limited vocabulary. Whether it was humor or anger, you could always find just the right word for any situation. This was to prepare you for the fleet.
After going through A school and Sub school, I headed to Charleston to pick up the boat. It had already left and I was assigned to Auxiliary Package Course for another few months. During package course, I had my first exposure to the DBF sailors. Since the diesel boats were being decommissioned at a rapid rate, most of my classmates were previous enginemen being converted to A Gangers. Many were much older (late twenties) and had developed their language skills to a fine art form, I had never heard the F word used in so many creative ways. This new training prepared me for my time on my first boat.
I did learn fairly early however that there were some times when the language was not appreciated. Mainly it was with young officers fresh from the academy. They were still fairly naïve and the typical sailor talk was deemed by many to be too crude (until after their first stop in Subic of course). I also saw a transformative change the first time they were monitoring the TDU operations and rotten eggs were being loaded into the chute.
The other time you had to be pretty judicious about your speech habits was around Chiefs. I believe with all of my heart that the saying “It is better to give than to receive” was created by a Chief. You could always tell how good a day it was going to be (or bad for that matter) by how quickly the Chief got to his first curse during morning quarters. I observed this carefully among my early mentors and relished the skills that I would use someday when I became a Chief.
Here’s the interesting thing. While some of the names were probably meant to be attention grabbing, most were not really meant to be hurtful. They were just words that culturally set the tone for the rest of the conversation. Obviously there were some exceptions (I can’t think of any redeeming characteristics about the words dumb-fuck). We just knew that we were going to have to endure a few harsh words form time to time.
Society is maturing I suppose. Nowadays, I almost never use any of the words that once flew easily from my mouth. That seems to be the right thing to do. I do appreciate the education those sailors and Chiefs gave me along the way. Occasionally I am made aware that some people I have been associated with may have said something that could be considered insulting. I just smile to myself and say:
Is that the best you can do slut?