According to John Babcock, a mortarman in the U.S. Army’s 78th Infantry Division, during World War II and every war before or after, the word “fuck” “was, and still is, the most frequently used crutch-word in the military.”
J. Glenn Gray, another World War II soldier, agreed. “The most common word in the mouths of American soldiers has been [‘fuck.’] This word does duty as adjective, adverb, verb, noun and in any other form it can possibly be used, however inappropriate or ridiculous in application.”
At times it was used as a placeholder while thinking of another “more appropriate word, but more often it was “a pure expletive that automatically insinuated itself into dog-face talk.”
The reliance on “fuck” as a universal descriptor was the downfall of many World War II servicemen who, during a rare visit to their families, asked “a younger sister or sweet old grandmother to ‘pass the fucking butter.’”
Glenn Fisher of the 102nd Infantry Division noted that a “real master of Army language rarely uttered a sentence without using it at least once.”
Even soldiers such as Fisher, who only seen the word “scrawled on the walls of outdoor toilets” and occasionally heard it “pronounced by small boys who were well out of earshot of any adult” before joining the Army, embraced the use of “fuck” even if they did not feel comfortable using it as much as others were.
But how did “fuck,” the “ultimate in obscenity” at the time according to Fisher, become “the most frequently used crutch-word in the military”?
U.S. Army staff sergeant James Jensen receives a late Christmas present while Pvt. 1st Class Eddie Yecny studies a pair of field glasses in France in February 1945. Army photo
“Among the working class, ‘fucking’ had always been a popular intensifier, but in wartime it became precious as a way for millions of conscripts to note, in a licensed way, their bitterness and anger,” noted Paul Fussell, an…