Doughboy

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For other uses, see Doughboy (disambiguation).
Wartime era portrait of a typical American doughboy, circa 1918.

Doughboy is an informal term for a member of the United States Army or Marine Corps. Today it is especially used to refer to members of the American Expeditionary Forces in World War I. (A popular mass-produced sculpture of the 1920s, the Spirit of the American Doughboy, shows a U.S. soldier in World War I uniform.) But the term dates back to the Mexican–American War of 1846–48 and was still used generically as late as World War II. Doughboys were usually young men who had dropped out of school and joined the army.

The term was gradually replaced during World War II by "G.I.". But it was still heard in popular songs of the day, as in the 1942 song "Johnny Doughboy found a Rose in Ireland."[1] It dropped out of popular use soon after World War II.[2]

Etymology[edit]

The origins of the term are unclear. It was in use as early as the 1840s.[3][4]

An often cited explanation is that the term first came about during the Mexican–American War, after observers noticed U.S. infantry forces were constantly covered with chalky dust from marching through the dry terrain of northern Mexico, giving the men the appearance of unbaked dough.[5] Another suggestion also arises from the Mexican–American War, and the dust-covered infantry men resembled the commonly used mud bricks of the area known as adobes.[5] Another suggestion is that doughboys were so named because of their method of cooking field rations of the 1840s and 1850s, usually doughy flour and rice concoctions baked in the ashes of a camp fire, although this does not explain why only infantryman received the appellation.[5]

The word doughboy was in wide circulation a century before the First World War in both Britain and America, albeit with some very different meanings. Horatio Nelson's sailors and Wellington's soldiers in Spain, for instance, were both familiar with fried flour dumplings called doughboys, the precursor of the modern doughnut. Because of the occasional contact of the two nation's armed force and transatlantic migration, it is possible this usage was known to the members of the U.S. Army by the early 19th century.

Independently, in the former colonies, however, the term had come to be applied to baker's young apprentices, i.e. dough-boys. Again, American soldiers probably were familiar with this usage, but were also possibly inclined to use it in a mocking fashion. The New World version of doughboy was a linguistic cousin to "dough-head", a colloquialism for stupidity in 19th Century America. Reader Judith Kerman, Professor of English at Saginaw Valley State University, points out that, in Moby-Dick (Ch. 34ff), Melville nicknames the timorous cabin steward "Doughboy." This important 19th Century literary usage suggests a negative comparison of the steward's pale face to the darker faces of the sun-burnt whalers and "savage" harpooneers. When doughboy was finally to find a home with the U.S. Army it initially had a similar disparaging connotation, used most often by cavalrymen looking down [quite literally] on the foot-bound infantry.

In examining the evolution of doughboy these pre-existing streams of application need to be kept in mind. There is, however, an absence of literary citations clearly connecting either to the American military. Doughboy as applied to the infantry of the U.S. Army first appears, without any precedent that can be documented, in accounts of the Mexican-American War of 1846-47.


An American doughboy (right) receives an award from King George V.

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ In 1942 two infantry soldiers wrote The Dogface Soldier, later officially adopted as the song of the U.S. 3rd Infantry Division. The Dogface Soldier
  2. ^ George, John B. (Lt. Col), Shots Fired In Anger, Samworth Press (1948), pp. xi, xii, 21: Lt. John George, an Army officer writing a World War II autobiographical postwar combat memoir in May 1947, freely used the term to describe himself and his fellow U.S. Army infantrymen.
  3. ^ Dana, Napoleon Jackson Tecumseh (Lt), Monterrey Is Ours! The Mexican War Letters of Lieutenant N.J.T. Dana, 1845-1847, University of Kentucky Press (1990), ISBN 0-8131-1703-8, ISBN 978-0-8131-1703-4: Lt. Dana, an infantryman in the Mexican-American War, wrote in a letter posted during the campaign, "We 'doughboys' had to wait for the artillery to get their carriages over."
  4. ^ Chamberlain, Samuel, My Confessions: Recollections of a Rogue, Austin: Texas State Historical Association (1965): Chamberlain, a horse-mounted Dragoon in the Mexican-American War, wrote in his memoirs years later, "No man of any spirit and ambition would join the 'Doughboys' and go afoot."
  5. ^ a b c Hanlon, Michael E., The Origins of Doughboy, 16 June 2003, Origin of Term Doughboy
  6. ^ Last "Doughboy" dies at 110 from knoxnews.com

Further reading[edit]

Faulstich, Edith. M. "The Siberian Sojourn" Yonkers, N.Y. (1972–1977)
Gawne, Jonathan. Over There!: The American Soldier in World War I (1999)- 83 pages, heavily illustrated
Grotelueschen, Mark Ethan. The AEF Way of War: The American Army and Combat in World War I (2006) excerpt and text search
Hallas, James H. Doughboy War: The American Expeditionary Force in World War I (2nd ed. 2009) online edition; includes many primary sources from soldiers
Hoff, Thomas. US Doughboy 1916-19 (2005)
Kennedy, David M. Over Here: The First World War and American Society (1980) excerpt and text search
Nelson, James Carl. The Remains of Company D:A Story of the Great War (2009)
Rubin, Richard The Last of the Doughboys: the forgotten generation and their forgotten world war ISBN 9780547554433 plus online webcast presentation of book
Schafer, Ronald. America in the Great War (1991)
Skilman, Willis Rowland. The A.E.F.: Who They Were, what They Did, how They Did it (1920) 231 pp; full text online
Smith, Gene. Until the Last Trumpet Sounds: The Life of General of the Armies John J. Pershing (1999), popular biography.
Snell, Mark A. Unknown Soldiers: The American Expeditionary Forces in Memory and Remembrance (2008)
Thomas, Shipley. The History of the A. E. F. (1920), 540pp; full text online
Votow, John. The American Expeditionary Forces in World War I (2005) - 96 pp; excerpt and text search
Werner, Bret. Uniforms, Equipment And Weapons of the American Expeditionary Forces in World War I (2006)

External links[edit]