Discuss word origins and meanings.
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Post by trolley » Wed Sep 07, 2016 9:46 pm

While talking to a friend the other day, I used the term “pongo” in reference to a military person. I was surprised that he had never heard it before. All my life, I, and everybody I knew (or so I thought) used the word to mean someone in the armed forces. Soldiers, sailors and airmen were all pongos. It is a slang term and I didn’t think it was actually offensive or derogatory. I thought it was more like calling a police officer a “cop”. After explaining to my friend that “everyone” knew what it meant I realized that I had no idea where it came from. Google tells me it is a British term for soldier but no one seems to offer up any reason why. A poster on Urban Dictionary had this to say:

British slang dating from the mid-nineteenth century, meaning soldiers. It stems from a snide expression used by music hall comedians to get a cheap laugh "where the army goes the pong goes", pong meaning smell. This quickly became pongoes meaning soldiers plural and pongo meaning an individual. Still in use today although not common.

by Croatalin January 26, 2014

….that seems a bit of a stretch…

Re: Pongo

Post by Bobinwales » Wed Sep 07, 2016 10:11 pm

I have never heard the expression either.
Signature: All those years gone to waist!
Bob in Wales

Re: Pongo

Post by Wizard of Oz » Thu Sep 08, 2016 4:03 pm

I am not familiar with the term but it is an AIF slang term.
Pongo An Infantryman. Although commonly used in some units this term could hardly be regarded as universal.

General World War I. From 1919 (OED).

This was originally nautical slang (1917) for ‘a marine’, but is first attested in Digger Dialects meaning ‘a soldier’. By the 1940s, this term was used in Australian English for an Englishman (AND). Partridge’s explanation for the origin of this word was that it came from the ‘forage cap worn by the soldiers resembled that worn by the pet dog Pongo from a Punch and Judy show’. A more simple explanation may be that it derives from, or is influenced by, pong meaning ‘a bad smell’.
Source: Glossary of Slang and Peculiar Terms in Use in the A.I.F. Australian National Dictionary Centre
The two most common etymologies I encountered were firstly the reference to soldiers not washing and therefore being "pongy" (smelly) and secondly to the hairy African ape of genus pongo.

The best classical etymology I encountered was the following.
During the Napoleonic wars the British Army was based in Portugal from 1807-1814. The Portuguese word for bread is written “pão”, and pronounced “pong”. We know that the Peninsular War soldiers used the term “pong” as there is a letter from a soldier complaining about the lack of “pong”. One of the distinctive differences in service between the sailors and soldiers of the time is that sailors lived on biscuit while, in the peninsular at least, the army lived on bread. So a sailor meeting Wellington’s Peninsular soldiers, and hearing them complain about the quality or quantity of “pong” might reasonably refer to soldiers as pong-goes – bread eaters.

So maybe, when the jolly jacks and the crabs call soldiers “Pongos” its not an insult. Its a reminder of the British Army’s traditions and the men who beat old Boney’s men over the hills and far away, in Flanders Portugal and Spain.
Source: The Observation Post, 07/01/13, Proud to be a Pongo

WoZ for information
Signature: "The question is," said Alice, "whether you can make words mean so many different things."

Re: Pongo

Post by Erik_Kowal » Thu Sep 08, 2016 5:13 pm

The multiplicity of explanations rather suggests that no-one really knows for sure what the origin of the term is.

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