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For the footballer, see Bert Gook. For the protective bonnet, see Gook (headgear).
U.S. Marines destined for the Philippines (1898). The word "gook" may have been coined by U.S. Marines at the beginning of the 20th century.

Gook (/ˈɡk/ or /ˈɡʊk/) is a derogatory term for South Korea which came to prominence during Korean war time.[1][unreliable source?] Originally used to refer to prostitutes,[2] the term was later employed by American military stationed around the world as a pejorative for native people.[3][4] It acquired its current status as a derogatory word for Asians at the time of the Vietnam War.[5]

Origin and development[edit]

A slang dictionary published in 1893 defined "gook" as "a low prostitute".[2] Its early use may have been influenced by the word "mak mak" or "gugu", applied to Filipinos by U.S. Marines. The term arose from the use of the bark of the gugo tree, which the local women (Filipinas) used to wash their hair, according to the David Halberstrom. "The Marines who occupied Nicaragua in 1912 took to calling the natives gooks, one of their names for Filipinos", according to H. L. Mencken.[6] Marines serving in Haiti in 1915 to 1920 used the term to refer to Haitians.

Some scholars[who?] suggest that "gook (guk)" comes from the Korean word "한국" (Hanguk) meaning "Korea."[7] However, the word was used before the Korean War. During the Korean War, American soldiers were sometimes approached by Koreans who used the term miguk, referring to Americans, and the American soldiers misinterpreted this as "Me gook."[citation needed] This story ignores the fact that there are many examples of the word's use that before the Korean War (1950).

In Frank Capra's Flight (1929), the word was spoken by a U.S. Marine stationed in Nicaragua. It was used again in the Korean War movie The Steel Helmet (1951)[8][nb 1] as well as numerous movies and books depicting the Vietnam War.[nb 2]

In U.S. usage, "gook" refers particularly to Communist soldiers during the Vietnam War. It is generally considered highly offensive. In a highly publicized incident, Senator John McCain used the word during the 2008 presidential campaign to refer to his former captors, then apologized to the Vietnamese community at large.[9] "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."[9]


  • 1893 Slang and its Analogues, GOOK, subs. (American). A low prostitute. For synonyms, see BARRACK HACK and TART.[2]
  • 1920 The Nation, The Haitians in whose service United States marines are presumably restoring peace and order in Haiti are nicknamed "Gooks"...[10]
  • 1923 Le Slang, gook, a tramp: low:[11]
  • 1935 American Speech, Gook, anyone who speaks Spanish, particularly a Filipino.[12] [Note: This incorrectly assumes that Filipinos speak Spanish.]
  • 1945 The American Language, The Marines who occupied Nicaragua in 1912 took to calling the natives gooks, one of their names for Filipinos.[6]
  • 1947 New York Herald Tribune (2 Apr.), The American troops...don’t like the Koreans – whom they prefer to call ‘Gooks’ – and, in the main, they don’t like Korea.[12]
  • 1950 Dimension X - The Potters of Firsk (Radio Show July 28, 1950 from the story by Jack Vance) Used multiple times by the Earthling supervisor to describe the indigenous population of planet Firsk.
  • 1960 Dictionary of American Slang, 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.[3]
  • 1967 Doobie Doo, A gook in the purest sense is anybody what ain’t American.[4]
  • 2000 John McCain referred to his Vietnamese wartime experience, “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.” [9]
  • 2004 Team America: World Police (movie), "I was so sure the ultimate terrorist was Middle Eastern, but I didn't realize he was a goddamn Gook. I'll never be a racist again."[14]
  • 2008 Gran Torino (movie) Walt Kowalski: "I'm no hero. I was just trying to get that babbling gook off my lawn!"


  1. ^ For another pre-Vietnam Korean reference, see The Hook (1963).
  2. ^ These include Rolling Thunder (film) (1977), Platoon (1986), Full Metal Jacket (1987), Hamburger Hill (1987), Good Morning Vietnam (1988), and Strawberry Fields (1997). See also the novel Word of Honor (1985) by Nelson DeMille, p. 590.


  1. ^ gook.
  2. ^ a b c John S. Farmer and W. E. Henley, Slang and its Analogues, Past and Present (1893).
  3. ^ a b "gookis a term used to describe Koreans. Gook is still a controversial slur. Some Koreans may take it as a joke but some may take as a serious racial slur. The history behind it is that during the Korean war, an American approached a Korean. The Korean did not understand the American, instead he pointed at him and called out "Mi Gook" which means "America" in Korean. The American then mistakened the Korean and thought the Korean was referring to himself as a "gook." After the Korean War, American started to refer to Koreans as Gooks for short term thinking it was a short name for Korean. There are many different stories where "gook" came from such as korean foods or HanGOOK.
  4. ^ a b Karp, Ivan, Doobie Doo 1967, p. 97.
  5. ^ Kaiser, Robert G. (Oct 20, 1969). "Friend or Foe, He's still a GOOK". St. Petersburg Times. pp. 15–A. Retrieved 2009-06-16. 
  6. ^ a b Dickson, Paul, War Slang, (2004), p. 29. Dickson cites Mencken's The American Language, Supplement 1 (1945).
  7. ^ Cao, Lan and Himilce Novas. Everything You Need to Know About Asian-American History. New York :Plume, 1996 "Gook, the American racial epithet for all Asian Americans, is actually the Korean word for 'country.'"
    Robert G. Lee, Orientals: Asian Americans in Popular Culture (1999) "A bastardization of the Korean "Hanguk" (Korean), or Miguk (American)"
  8. ^ The Steel Helmet, 1951.
  9. ^ a b c Ma, Jason, "McCain Apologizes for ‘Gook’ Comment", Asiaweek,, February 24, 2000.
  10. ^ Seligman, Herbert J., The Conquest of Haiti, The Nation, July 10, 1920.
  11. ^ Manchon, J., Le Slang, Lexique de L'anglais Familier Et Vulgaire (1923). Cited in A Dictionary of Slang and Unconventional English (1984) by Eric Partridge and Paul Beale, p. 489, "gook".
  12. ^ a b Pearson, Kim, "Gook".
  13. ^ "Soldiers revive "gook" as name for Korea reds", Los Angeles Times, Aug. 6, 1950, p. 6.
  14. ^ "Memorable quotes for Team America: World Police" (2004).