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Leatherneck is a military slang term for a member of the United States Marine Corps, or of the British Royal Marines. It is generally believed to originate in the wearing of a leather "stock" or collar around the neck, which kept the posture erect.
The term "leatherneck" was derived from a leather stock once worn around the neck by both American and British Marines. In the United States, beginning in 1798, "one stock of black leather and clasp" was issued to each Marine every year. Its use as a synecdoche for Marines began as a term of ridicule by sailors.
The use of the collar in battle was to protect the neck against the sword of Muslim pirates and soldiers. The First Barbary War engaged the new American fighting force to stop the lawless pirates from holding trade ships for ransom during Jefferson's term as president. The pirates, Muslims, were trained to cut off the heads of enemies or "strike them about the head and shoulders." The Marines first duty was close combat with Muslims, thus the words in the Marine Corps Hymn, "To the shores of Tripoli."
Leather neck collar
This stiff leather collar, fastened by two buckles at the back, measured between 2.5 and more than 3 inches tall in front, tapering toward the back. The origin of the leather neck collar, also known as a "stock", has to do with early 19th-century military fashion trends in Europe and North America; its use among enlisted men supposedly improved their military bearing and appearance by forcing the chin high and posture straight.
The stock was uncomfortable, but Marines would be punished for failure to wear them on duty, so some would have the stock stitched to their coats to ensure it was always on their uniform. General George F. Elliott, recalling its use after the American Civil War, said the "effect of the stock when buckled around a man's neck was to hold his head high in the air, like geese looking for rain".
The stock was dropped as an article of American Marine uniform in 1872, after surviving through the uniform changes of 1833, 1839, and 1859.
While the stock is mistakenly understood to have been worn only for posture, popular belief and Marine Corps History tells that it was worn to protect the neck from sword cuts, such as cutlass slashes while boarding ships. The leather stock was adopted three years prior to the Barbary War in which United States Marines first fought Arabic troops armed with scimitars.
Alternative etymology for Royal Marines
While the American Marine Corps nickname "leatherneck" is generally attributed to the wear of the leather stock, some argue that the use of the term for British Royal Marines is not based on that garment, but instead on the tough and "leathery" nature of a weathered and unwashed neck, noting that "bootneck" is also a British slang term for a marine.
- Leatherneck Magazine
- List of U.S. Marine Corps acronyms and expressions
- Lou Diamond (Mr. Leatherneck)
- M1858 Uniform
- Gordon L Rottman (1 January 2012). FUBAR F***ed Up Beyond All Recognition: Soldier Slang of World War II. Osprey Publishing. pp. 137–. ISBN 978-1-84908-653-0.
- "Legends of the Marine Corps". Marine Corps Historical Reference Series. USMCHangout.com. 1963. Retrieved 2014-06-22.
- Lighter, Jonathan (June 20, 2014). "How World War I gave us 'cooties'". CNN. Retrieved 2014-06-22.
'Leatherneck,' ... denoted the U.S. Marine, whose 19th-century uniform had featured a high leather collar that sailors ridiculed.
- "Lore of the Corps". National Museum of the Marine Corps. Retrieved 2014-06-22.
This leather collar served to protect the neck against cutlass slashes and to hold the head erect in proper military bearing. Sailors serving aboard ship with Marines came to call them 'leathernecks.' Use of the leather stock was retained until after the Civil War when it was replaced by a strip of black glazed leather attached to the inside front of the dress uniform collar. The last vestiges of the leather stock can be seen in today’s modern dress uniform, which features a stiff cloth tab behind the front of the collar. The term 'leatherneck' transcended the actual use of the leather stock and became a common nickname for United States Marines.
- Robert H. Rankin (1970). Uniforms of the Marines. Putnam. p. 26.
- Lawrence F. Lowery (2007). The Golden Age of Big Little Books. Educational Research and Applications LLC. p. 155. ISBN 978-0-9762724-8-9.
- Our Navy, the Standard Publication of the U.S. Navy. 1918. pp. 2–.
- The Leatherneck. Leatherneck Association. 1953. p. 32.
- USMC uniforms during the Civil War. Marine Corps Association
- Edward F. Dolan (1 September 2009). Careers in the U.S. Marine Corps. Marshall Cavendish. pp. 23–. ISBN 978-0-7614-4637-8.
- Richard S. Lowry (2006). US Marine in Iraq: Operation Iraqi Freedom, 2003. Osprey Publishing. pp. 63–. ISBN 978-1-84176-982-0.
- Scott Keller (2004). Marine Pride: A Salute to America's Elite Fighting Force. Kensington Publishing Corporation. pp. 23–. ISBN 978-0-8065-2603-4.