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Gook (/ˈɡk/ or /ˈɡʊk/) is a derogatory term for certain people of East and Southeast Asian descent. The slur is frequently directed toward people of Filipino, Korean, or Vietnamese descent.[1] It was originally predominantly used by the U.S. military during wartime, especially during the Korean War and the Vietnam War.[2][3]


The Oxford English Dictionary states that the origin of the current usage is unknown.[2] There are three suggested possible origins:

  • An earlier usage of gook, meaning "prostitute", recorded in a slang dictionary published in 1893, which defined gook as "a low prostitute";[4] a similar meaning was recorded for gooh in 1859.[5] This later came to imply a foolish or peculiar person.[6]
  • The term goo-goo[6], whose origins are similarly uncertain, which was first used in 1899 by U.S. troops in the Philippine–American War,[7] although nigger was more prevalent.[8]
  • That "gook" comes from the Korean word "국" (guk), meaning "country",[9] "한국" (hanguk), meaning "Korea", or "미국" (miguk), meaning "America".[10] For example, U.S. soldiers might have heard locals saying miguk, referring to Americans, and misinterpreted this as "Me gook."[11] "Mỹ Quốc"[12] is an archaism in Vietnamese that died out due to a language shift, starting from just before the Indochina Wars and culminating with the end of that period often referred to as the Vietnam War, which has the same root and similar pronunciation to Korean "미국" (miguk) both stemming from Chinese characters "美國"(Měiguó in Mandarin, also meaning "America").

Historical use[edit]

H. L. Mencken reported that U.S. Marines occupying Nicaragua in 1912 took to calling the natives gooks and that it had previously been a term for Filipinos.[13] He further mentions that the natives of Costa Rica are sometimes called goo-goos.[14] During the American occupation of Haiti, the Marines used the term to refer to Haitians.[15] U.S. occupation troops in South Korea after World War II called the Koreans "gooks".[16] After the return of U.S. troops to the Korean Peninsula, so prevalent was the use of the word gook during the first months of the Korean War that U.S. General Douglas MacArthur banned its use, for fear that Asians would become alienated to the United Nations Command because of the insult.[2][17][18] The term was even used in British Army dispatches during the Korean War; the posthumous Victoria Cross citation for Major Kenneth Muir, for the Battle of Hill 282, stated that his last words were: "The Gooks will never drive the Argylls off this hill".[19] Although mainly used to describe non-European foreigners, especially East and Southeast Asians, it has been used to describe foreigners in general,[20] including Italians in 1944, Indians, Lebanese and Turks in the '70s, and Arabs in 1988.[6] This dual usage is similar to the offensive word wog in British English.

In modern U.S. usage, "gook" refers particularly to communist soldiers during the Vietnam War and has also been used towards all Vietnamese and at other times to all East Asians in general. It is 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: "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." He later apologized to the Vietnamese community at large.[21]

The term has been used by non-U.S. militaries, notably the Rhodesian forces during the Rhodesian Bush War, where it was used interchangeably with terr and terrorist to describe the guerrillas,[22][23][self-published source?] and by Australian forces during the Vietnam War.[6]


  1. ^ Oxford Dictionares
  2. ^ a b c "Gook: The Short History of an Americanism". Monthly Review. March 1992. Archived from the original on October 30, 2014.
  3. ^
  4. ^ Farmer, John S.; Henley, W. E. (1893). Slang and its Analogues, Past and Present. III - Fla. to Hyps. Printed for subscribers only. p. 181.
  5. ^ Lighter, Jonathan E. (1997). Random Historical Dictionary of American Slang. Random House.
  6. ^ a b c d Hughes, Geoffrey (2006). An Encyclopedia of Swearing. Routledge. pp. 207–8.
  7. ^ Paterson, Thomas; Merrill, Dennis (2009). Major Problems in American Foreign Relations, Volume I. Cengage Learning. p. 389.
  8. ^ Unoki, Ko (2013). Mergers, Acquisitions and Global Empires. Routledge. p. 87.
  9. ^ 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.
  10. ^ Lee, Robert G. (1999). Orientals: Asian Americans in Popular Culture. Temple University Press. A bastardization of the Korean "Hanguk" (Korean), or Miguk (American)"
  11. ^ Trans-Pacific Relations: America, Europe, and Asia in the Twentieth Century. Praeger. 2003. p. 117.
  12. ^ "Mỹ Quốc in English". Glosbe. Retrieved 12 January 2017.
  13. ^ Dickson, Paul (2011). War Slang. Dover Publications. p. 29. Dickson cites Mencken's The American Language, Supplement 1 (1945)
  14. ^ Mencken, H. L. The American Language. p. 296.
  15. ^ "The Conquest of Haiti". The Nation. 10 July 1920.
  16. ^ "Gook". Rhetoric of Race. 2003. Archived from the original on February 24, 2009.
  17. ^ "Soldiers revive "gook" as name for Korea reds". Los Angeles Times. 6 August 1950. p. 6.
  18. ^ "Use of Word "Gook" Is Opposed by MacArthur". The Kansas City Star. 12 September 1950.
  19. ^ "No. 39115". The London Gazette (Supplement). 5 January 1951. pp. 133–134.
  20. ^ 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.
  21. ^ "McCain Apologizes for 'Gook' Comment". Asiaweek. 24 February 2000. Archived from the original on November 2, 2000.
  22. ^ "Ironing the lawn in Salisbury, Rhodesia". The Guardian. 9 February 1980.
  23. ^ Hyslop, Angus (1997). Jaws of the Lion: Rhodesia Before Zimbabwe.[self-published source]

External links[edit]

  • The dictionary definition of gook at Wiktionary