Top Nav

Oh Boy That's the GirlThe Origin of the Doughboy

During the Great War, Americans knew their soldiers as “doughboys.” This informal label was a universal nickname for all American troops of all branches entering the European theatre, replacing the previously used “Yanks” and “Sammies” labels. Despite its popularity, the origin of this term is not entirely clear.

The term dates back as far as the Mexican-American War of 1846-1848, although its true origin is widely disputed. The term is most likely a slang derivation from the word “dobies” (itself short for “adobies”), a contemptuous description used by U.S. Cavalrymen stationed along the Rio Grande to describe dust-caked infantrymen. Samuel Chamberlain, a Dragoon, once said, “No man of any spirit and ambition would join the ‘Doughboys’ and go afoot!”

In the April 1919 edition of the magazine, The Stars and Stripes, a writer offered a similar explanation, but from a later conflict:

“To the Editor of THE STARS AND STRIPES: I would appreciate the answering of the following question (sic) in your next issue of The Stars And Stripes: Why call an Infantryman a doughboy? Response: The word ‘doughboy’ originated in the Philippines. After a long march over extremely dusty roads, the Infantrymen came into camp covered with dust. The long hikes brought out the perspiration, and the perspiration mixed with the dust formed a substance resembling dough; therefore, their lucky brothers, the mounted soldiers, called them ‘doughboys.’”

There are many other ideas as to the origin of the term. One theory comes from the method of cooking field rations in the mid-19th century—usually dough and rice concoctions cooked over a fire. However, this theory does not explain why only infantrymen received the nickname. Another theory is that the term came from the “globular” brass buttons on the coats of U.S. infantryman, reminiscent of the dumplings eaten by early soldiers and sailors. Then there is the pipe clay theory, stemming from the clay 19th century enlisted men used to polish their uniforms and belts. In inclement weather this clay looked like dough.

By the time U.S. Servicemen returned to Europe during the Second World War, the term “doughboy” had disappeared and soldiers were referred to as “GI’s,” an abbreviation of “Government Issue.”

 

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Pope, Stephen, and Elizabeth-Anne Wheal. Dictionary of the First World War. South Yorkshire: Pen & Sword, 2003.

Mead, Gary. The Doughboys: America and the First World War. Woodstock: The Overlook Press, 2000.

Wikipedia. “Doughboy.” Accessed August 15, 2011. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Doughboy.

IN THE COLLECTION

Posters:

143I “Oh Boy! That’s the Girl!” 1918, United War Work Campaign, 30×40

143I* “Oh Boy! That’s the Girl!” 1918, United War Work Campaign, 10×15

Magazines:

The Stars and Stripes April 25, 1919

Books:

Mead, Gary. The Doughboys: America and the First World War. Woodstock: The Overlook Press, 2000.

Arts of the Great War Collection