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This article is about the ethinc slur. For the headdress, see Gook (headgear). For the river in the United States, see Gook Creek.

Gook (/ˈɡk/ or /ˈɡʊk/) is a derogatory term for Asians. It was originally predominantly used by the US military during war time, especially during the Korean and Vietnam wars.[1]

Origin and development[edit]

The Oxford English Dictionary states that the origin of the current usage is unknown.[1] There are two usually suggested possible origins: an earlier usage of gook, meaning prostitute; or goo-goo (also gugu), a term used by the US military to describe Filipinos.[2] The prostitute usage is recorded in a slang dictionary published in 1893, which defined gook as "a low prostitute";[3] a similar meaning was recorded for gooh in 1859.[4] This later came to imply a foolish or peculiar person.[2] The goo-goo term, whose origins are similarly uncertain, was first used in 1899 by US troops in the Philippine–American War,[5] although nigger was more prevalent.[6]

Mencken reports the earliest use of the word gook: he wrote that US marines occupying Nicaragua in 1912 took to calling the natives gooks and that it had previously been a term for Filipinos.[7] He further mentions that the natives of Costa Rica are sometimes called goo-goos.[8] The first written use was in 1920 and mentions that the marines occupying Haiti used the term to refer to Haitians.[9] US occupation troops in Korea after World War II called the Koreans "gooks".[10] After the return of US troops to the Korean peninsula, so prevalent was the use of the word gook during the first months of the Korean War that US General Douglas MacArthur banned its use, for fear that Asians would become alienated to the United Nations Command because of the insult.[1][11][12] Although mainly used to describe non-European foreigners, especially Asians, it has been used to describe foreigners in general,[13] including Italians in 1944, Indians, Lebanese and Turks in the '70s, and Arabs in 1988.[2]

It has been suggested that gook comes from the Korean word "국" (guk), meaning "country",[14] "한국" (hanguk), meaning "Korea", or "미국" (miguk), meaning "America".[15] For example, American soldiers might have heard locals saying miguk, referring to Americans, and misinterpreted this as "Me gook."[16] These etymologies ignore the fact that there are many examples of the word's use from before the 1950s.

In modern US usage, "gook" refers particularly to Communist soldiers during the Vietnam War. It is generally considered to be highly offensive. In a highly publicized incident, Senator John McCain used the word during the 2000 presidential campaign to refer to his former captors, then apologized to the Vietnamese community at large. "I hate the gooks. I will hate them as long as I live… I was referring to my prison guards and I will continue to refer to them in language that might offend."[17] It was used in numerous movies and books depicting the Vietnam War.[nb 1]

The term has been used by non-US militaries, notably the Rhodesian forces during the Rhodesian Bush War, where it was used interchangeably with terr and terrorist to describe the guerrillas,[18][19] and by Australian forces during the Vietnam War.[2]


  1. ^ These include Rolling Thunder (1977), Platoon (1986), Full Metal Jacket (1987), Hamburger Hill (1987), Good Morning Vietnam (1988) and Born on the Fourth of July (1989). See also the novel Word of Honor (1985) by Nelson DeMille, p. 590.


  1. ^ a b c "Gook: The Short History of an Americanism". Monthly Review. March 1992. 
  2. ^ a b c d Hughes, Geoffrey (2006). An Encyclopedia of Swearing. Routledge. pp. 207–8. 
  3. ^ Farmer, John S.; Henley, W. E. (1893). Slang and its Analogues, Past and Present. III - Fla. to Hyps. Printed for subscribers only. p. 181. 
  4. ^ Lighter, Jonathan E. (1997). Random Historical Dictionary of American Slang. Random House. 
  5. ^ Paterson, Thomas; Merrill, Dennis (2009). Major Problems in American Foreign Relations, Volume I. Cengage Learning. p. 389. 
  6. ^ Unoki, Ko (2013). Mergers, Acquisitions and Global Empires. Routledge. p. 87. 
  7. ^ Dickson, Paul (2011). War Slang. Dover Publications. p. 29. Dickson cites Mencken's The American Language, Supplement 1 (1945) 
  8. ^ Mencken, H. L. The American Language. p. 296. 
  9. ^ "The Conquest of Haiti". The Nation. 10 July 1920. 
  10. ^ "Gook". Rhetoric of Race. 2003. 
  11. ^ "Soldiers revive "gook" as name for Korea reds". Los Angeles Times. 6 August 1950. p. 6. 
  12. ^ "Use of Word “Gook” Is Opposed by MacArthur". The Kansas City Star. 12 September 1950. 
  13. ^ Wentworth, Harold; Flexner, Stuart Berg (1960). Dictionary of American Slang. Thomas Y. Crowell Co. gook: Generically, a native of the Pacific islands, Africa, Japan, China, Korea or any European country except England; usually a brown-skinned or Oriental non-Christian. 
  14. ^ Cao, Lan; Novas, Himilce (1996). Everything You Need to Know About Asian-American History. Plume. p. 250. Gook, the American racial epithet for all Asian Americans, is actually the Korean word for 'country. 
  15. ^ Lee, Robert G. (1999). Orientals: Asian Americans in Popular Culture. Temple University Press. A bastardization of the Korean "Hanguk" (Korean), or Miguk (American)" 
  16. ^ Trans-Pacific Relations: America, Europe, and Asia in the Twentieth Century. Praeger. 2003. p. 117. 
  17. ^ "McCain Apologizes for 'Gook' Comment". Asiaweek. 24 February 2000. 
  18. ^ "Ironing the lawn in Salisbury, Rhodesia". The Guardian. 9 February 1980. 
  19. ^ Hyslop, Angus (1997). Jaws of the Lion: Rhodesia Before Zimbabwe.