Learning the Lingo


Slang is a language that rolls up its sleeves, spits on its hands and goes to work. ~Carl Sandburg



From the earliest of times, military units have put together “invasion dictionaries” for the purpose of establishing communications with those they hoped to dominate. Way back when Caesar was stomping everyone into the ground, the Roman armies had “linguists” who facilitated the subjugation of those trodden under by providing language translations. This has been common practice with all military units since.


When I went to Vietnam, there was no such publication available, (at least not for lower ranking men of the enlisted nature) no Google Translate, and yes, it was occasionally (often?) difficult to interact with the Vietnamese, when necessary.


Many of the Vietnamese spoke pidgin English, which made them more astute than most Americans, who spoke little or no Vietnamese.


But we learned the important stuff real fast:


Beucoup;  much   



No Bic;  don’t understand 



Dinky dao;  Crazy 



Beucoup dinky dao;  VERY crazy



Boom Boom;     😉



Numba one;  you are great!      



Numba ten;  you stink 



Caca dau;  I kill you     



Chelly boy;  new guy    



Cong Mou;  Mosquito                    



Didi Mau;  let’s get the hell outta here     



Trau Dien;   Crazy Buffalo 



Ao Dai;  traditional Vietnamese woman’s dress 



Cong Khi;  Monkey 



Dung Lai;  Halt    



Khong hut thuoc;   No smoking



La Vay;  Beer  



Moua;  Rain        



Nook;  Water  



Nuoc Mam;   Fermented fish     (beucoup fermented)



Mama San;  Vietnamese woman  



Papa San; Vietnamese man 



Baby San; Vietnamese child   



Same same;  Same ol …



Tee tee;  very little  



Tu Dai;  booby trap   



I made an effort to learn Vietnamese, beyond the slang. A family member sent me a Vietnamese language book and I spent a few weeks studying it before trying it out on the locals.

After I felt I had enough mastery, I approached a few of the Mama Sans on base and started jabbering in Vietnamese. (My dialect) Normally talkative, all those present stood mute, staring at me like I was from the planet Mars. Not to be discouraged, I tried it out on a few of the Papa Sans, who were working nearby. A few of them were courteous enough to stifle their laughter, most did not.


Back to the drawing board, I hit the book for a few more weeks and tried again; with the same results, after which I tossed the book into our nightly bon-fire and put aside my visions of becoming the next ambassador to Vietnam.


I also did my best to master Korean, as I spent most of my last month in Vietnam with Korean soldiers of the Tiger Division. As with the Vietnamese language, I mastered enough Korean to stay fed, hydrated and mostly out of trouble.


좋은 하루 보내세요  (Have a good day)  😉






 You are welcome to share this post as is, citing Joe as the creator. Copyright protected, all rights reserved © Joe Campolo Jr

About the Author

Joe Campolo Jr.

Joe Campolo, Jr. is an award winning author, poet and public speaker. A Vietnam War Veteran, Joe writes and speaks about the war and many other topics. See the "Author Page" of this website for more information on Joe. Guest writers on Joe's blogs will have a short bio with each article. Select blogs by category and enjoy the many other articles available here. Joe's popular books are available thru Amazon, this website, and many other on-line book stores.


  1. Joe, Once again, yer awesome! You brought back a ton of memories in a very short amount of words/time. Thanks…
    Some of those times were fun…

  2. Joe, you numbah one GI !! “33” beer on me! All kiddin’ aside, I sure can relate to this short short of your story. Somehow, I picked up the lingo in working with the ARVN at Phu Bai. I remember the 2nd Looey always looking to me to communicate with the Viets whenever they got on his nerves (that’s a story in itself). Beaucoup Dien Cai Dau for sure!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *