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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 in the early twentieth century.

Gook (/ˈɡk/ or /ˈɡʊk/) is a derogatory term for Asians which came to prominence in reference to enemy soldiers.[1][unreliable source?] Originally used to refer to prostitutes,[2] the term was later employed by American soldiers stationed around the world as a pejorative for the native peoples.[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] Early usage may have been influenced by the word "mak mak" or "gugu", also applied to Filipinos by the Marines. The term arose from the use of the bark of the gugo tree, which the local women (Filipinas) used to wash their hair (in lieu of shampoo), according to the late 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 suggest that "gook (guk)" refers to the Korean word "한국" (Hanguk) meaning "Korean."[7] However, the word was used before the Korean War. During the Korean War, American soldiers were approached by Koreans who used the term miguk, referring to the Americans, and the American soldiers misinterpreted the term as "Me gook."[citation needed]

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

In the U.S., "gook" refers most particularly to Communist soldiers in the context of the Vietnam War. It is generally considered highly offensive. In a highly publicized incident, Senator John McCain used the word 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]



  1. ^ For another pre-Vietnam Korean reference, see The Hook (1963).
  2. ^ These movies 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 "gook Generically, a native of the Pacific islands,Jomak,Africa, Japan, China, Korea or any European country except England; usually a brown-skinned or Oriental non-Christian: 1951 Gook was used during World War 2 at many widely separated stations to refer to natives Word Study May 7/1," (Wentworth, Harold and Stuart Berg Flexner, Dictionary of American Slang, (1960)).
  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).