Did the Term ‘Grunt’ Originate in Vietnam or During WWII?

Photo Credit: Spec 4 Peter Finnegan / US Army / PhotoQuest / Getty Images

For decades, infantry soldiers in the US Army and Marine Corps have been called “grunts,” wearing the moniker like a badge of honor. Grunts are the soldiers on the frontlines, the toughest and bravest fighters the country has. However, exactly where the term comes from has consistently been up for debate.

The difference between grunts and POGs

US Army motor transport operator kneeling before a young girl
US Army motor transport operator at the checkpoint for a humanitarian operation. (Photo Credit: AFP / Getty Images)

Infantry, of course, is essential to the success of any platoon, but there are other important members of the military who help in operations as well. They are sometimes referred to as POGs – or “People Other Than Grunts.” POGs typically perform jobs as motor transport operators, guards or security contractors, and also take on administrative roles.

POGs and grunts need each other to function properly.

A term of endearment

Injured US Army Infantrymen
Injured US Army Infantrymen following the storming of Omaha Beach during World War II. (Photo Credit: Taylor / US Army / Getty Images)

The term “grunt” is delivered in a very softhearted way. When asked to define the term, Marine Major H.G. Duncan explained it’s “a term of affection used to denote that filthy, sweaty, dirt-encrusted, footsore, camouflage-painted, tired, sleepy, beautiful little son of a b***h who has kept the wolf away from the door for over two hundred years.”

Origins during the Vietnam War?

Soldiers march in Chu Lai
Soldiers march in Chu Lai during the Vietnam War. (Photo Credit: Keystone-France / Gamma-Keystone / Getty Images)

There are two schools of thought regarding the origin of the term “grunt.” One states there was a friendly rivalry in Vietnam between the troops who were in the jungle all day and those who stayed behind in air-conditioned buildings, working on logistics.

As the story goes, the POGs wanted to come up with a nickname for their rivals, and one decided on “grunt.” According to legend, however, the soldiers weren’t offended by the nickname, and were instead proud of the connotation. It’s stuck ever since.

World War II origins?

American soldiers drinking Coca-Cola
American soldiers drink Coca-Cola after months on the front. (Photo Credit: PH / Sherman Montrose ACME / Bettmann / Getty Images)

Others believe the term was coined during the Second World War. Thanks to the participation of the world’s powers and tremendous advances in technology, the death count of the conflict was incredibly high. As such, new soldiers were frequently being sent overseas.

During battles, the newest troops would be placed on the frontlines while the more experienced soldiers would be in the back of the line. According to this legend, “grunt” is an acronym, meaning “General Replacement Unit, Not Trained.”