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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]

Etymology and use

The Oxford English Dictionary states that the origin of the current usage is unknown.[1] 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";[2] a similar meaning was recorded for gooh in 1859.[3] This later came to imply a foolish or peculiar person.[4] 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]
  • That when American servicemen heard the term during the Korean war, they heard the word as 'gook" instead of k(g)uk which means "national" (maybe, thus, interpreted as nationalist) goo-goo (also gugu), a term used by the US military to describe Filipinos.[4]
  • That "gook" comes from the Korean word "국" (guk), meaning "country",[7] "한국" (hanguk), meaning "Korea", or "미국" (miguk), meaning "America".[8] For example, American soldiers might have heard locals saying miguk, referring to Americans, and misinterpreted this as "Me gook."[9]

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.[10] He further mentions that the natives of Costa Rica are sometimes called goo-goos.[11] The first written use was in 1920 and mentions that the marines occupying Haiti used the term to refer to Haitians.[12] US occupation troops in Korea after World War II called the Koreans "gooks".[13] 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][14][15] Although mainly used to describe non-European foreigners, especially Asians, it has been used to describe foreigners in general,[16] including Italians in 1944, Indians, Lebanese and Turks in the '70s, and Arabs in 1988.[4] This dual usage is similar to the offensive word wog in British English.

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: "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.[17]

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.[4]


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 "Gook: The Short History of an Americanism". Monthly Review. March 1992.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  2. Farmer, John S.; Henley, W. E. (1893). Slang and its Analogues, Past and Present. III - Fla. to Hyps. Printed for subscribers only. p. 181.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  3. Lighter, Jonathan E. (1997). Random Historical Dictionary of American Slang. Random House.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 4.3 Hughes, Geoffrey (2006). An Encyclopedia of Swearing. Routledge. pp. 207–8.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  5. Paterson, Thomas; Merrill, Dennis (2009). Major Problems in American Foreign Relations, Volume I. Cengage Learning. p. 389.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  6. Unoki, Ko (2013). Mergers, Acquisitions and Global Empires. Routledge. p. 87.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  7. 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.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  8. Lee, Robert G. (1999). Orientals: Asian Americans in Popular Culture. Temple University Press. A bastardization of the Korean "Hanguk" (Korean), or Miguk (American)"<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  9. Trans-Pacific Relations: America, Europe, and Asia in the Twentieth Century. Praeger. 2003. p. 117.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  10. Dickson, Paul (2011). War Slang. Dover Publications. p. 29. Dickson cites Mencken's The American Language, Supplement 1 (1945)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  11. Mencken, H. L. The American Language. p. 296.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  12. "The Conquest of Haiti". The Nation. 10 July 1920.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  13. "Gook". Rhetoric of Race. 2003.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  14. "Soldiers revive "gook" as name for Korea reds". Los Angeles Times. 6 August 1950. p. 6.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  15. "Use of Word "Gook" Is Opposed by MacArthur". The Kansas City Star. 12 September 1950.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  16. 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.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  17. "McCain Apologizes for 'Gook' Comment". Asiaweek. 24 February 2000.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  18. "Ironing the lawn in Salisbury, Rhodesia". The Guardian. 9 February 1980.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  19. Hyslop, Angus (1997). Jaws of the Lion: Rhodesia Before Zimbabwe.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>