Gook (/ˈɡk/ or /ˈɡʊk/) is a derogatory term for people of Asian descent.[1] The term may have originated among U.S. Marines during the Philippine-American War (1899 – 1902).[2][3] If so, it could be related to the use of "gook" as a slang term for prostitute during that period.[4][2] Historically, U.S. military personnel used the word to refer to non-Americans of various races.[5] The earliest published example is dated 1920 and notes that U.S. Marines then in Haiti used the term to refer to Haitians.[6] It acquired its current racial meaning as a result of movies dealing with the Vietnam War.


The Oxford English Dictionary states that the origin of the word is unknown.[7] "The Marines who occupied Nicaragua in 1912 took to calling the natives gooks, one of their names for Filipinos," according to H. L. Mencken's The American Language.[8] In 1920, it was reported that U.S. Marines in Haiti used the term to refer to Haitians.[6] A dictionary published in 1935 defined a gook as, "Anyone who speaks Spanish, particularly a Filipino."[7]

There are three suggested possible origins:

Historical use

U.S. occupation troops in South Korea after World War II called the Koreans "gooks".[14] After the return of U.S. troops to the Korean Peninsula, so prevalent was the use of the word gook during the first months of the Korean War that U.S. General Douglas MacArthur banned its use, for fear that Asians would become alienated to the United Nations Command because of the insult.[2][15][16] The term was even used in British Army dispatches during the Korean War; the posthumous Victoria Cross citation for Major Kenneth Muir, for the Battle of Hill 282, stated that his last words were: "The Gooks will never drive the Argylls off this hill".[17] Although mainly used to describe non-European foreigners, especially East and Southeast Asians, it has been used to describe foreigners in general,[18] including Italians in 1944, Indians, Lebanese and Turks in the '70s, and Arabs in 1988.[9] This dual usage is similar to the offensive word wog in British English.

In modern U.S. usage, "gook" refers particularly to communist soldiers during the Vietnam War and has also been used towards all Vietnamese and at other times to all Southeast Asians in general. It is considered to be highly offensive. In a highly publicized incident, Senator John McCain used the word during the 2000 presidential campaign to refer to his North Vietnamese captors when he was a prisoner of war: "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." A few days later, however, he apologized to the Vietnamese community at large.[19]


  1. ^ "gook," Oxford Dictionaries
  2. ^ a b c "Gook: The Short History of an Americanism". Monthly Review. March 1992. Archived from the original on October 30, 2014. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  3. ^
  4. ^ a b Farmer, John S.; Henley, W. E. (1893). Slang and its Analogues, Past and Present. III - Fla. to Hyps. Printed for subscribers only. p. 181.
  5. ^ Wentworth and Flexner, Dictionary of American Slang (1960): "Generically, a native of the Pacific islands, Africa, Japan, China, Korea or any European country except England; usually a brown-skinned or Oriental non-Christian."
  6. ^ a b "The Conquest of Haiti". The Nation. 10 July 1920.
  7. ^ a b gook, Oxford English Dictionary, Second Edition, 2001.
  8. ^ Mencken, H. L., The American Language, Supplement 1 (1945).
  9. ^ a b Hughes, Geoffrey (2006). An Encyclopedia of Swearing. Routledge. pp. 207–8. ISBN 9780765629548.
  10. ^ Paterson, Thomas; Merrill, Dennis (2009). Major Problems in American Foreign Relations, Volume I. Cengage Learning. p. 389. ISBN 978-0547218243.
  11. ^ Cao, Lan; Novas, Himilce (1996). Everything You Need to Know About Asian-American History. Plume. p. 250. Gook, the American racial epithet for all Asian Americans, is actually the Korean word for 'country.
  12. ^ Lee, Robert G. (1999). Orientals: Asian Americans in Popular Culture. Temple University Press. A bastardization of the Korean "Hanguk" (Korean), or Miguk (American)"
  13. ^ Trans-Pacific Relations: America, Europe, and Asia in the Twentieth Century. Praeger. 2003. p. 117. ISBN 9780275977146.
  14. ^ "Gook". Rhetoric of Race. 2003. Archived from the original on February 24, 2009. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  15. ^ "Soldiers revive "gook" as name for Korea reds". Los Angeles Times. 6 August 1950. p. 6.
  16. ^ "Use of Word "Gook" Is Opposed by MacArthur". The Kansas City Star. 12 September 1950.
  17. ^ "No. 39115". The London Gazette (Supplement). 5 January 1951. pp. 133–134.
  18. ^ Wentworth, Harold; Flexner, Stuart Berg (1960). Dictionary of American Slang. Thomas Y. Crowell Co. gook: Generically, a native of the Pacific islands, Africa, Japan, China, Korea or any European country except England; usually a brown-skinned or Oriental non-Christian.
  19. ^ "McCain Apologizes for 'Gook' Comment". Asiaweek. 24 February 2000. Archived from the original on November 2, 2000. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)