RENEE MONTAGNE, Host:
Okay, so if you overhear two people talking and one of them says...
STEVE INSKEEP, Host:
I was over in Marineland, when I ran into this fobbit.
MONTAGNE: You must be listening to members of the U.S. military.
INSKEEP: American troops have their own slang, which tells us something about their lives. So we contacted Iraq war veteran Austin Bay, who wrote a little handbook called, "Embrace the Suck: A Pocket Guide to Milspeak."
MONTAGNE: He told us Marineland is Anbar province in Iraq, patrolled mainly by Marines. And if you found yourself in Marineland, you might hear variations on the Marine's motto: Semper Fidelis, always faithful. Or for short, Semper Fi.
AUSTIN BAY: Well, Semper I is the one that is really funny. That's the pun off of Semper Fi. Semper I, that's somebody who's only concerned about himself. When I heard that, I thought that's an example of the perfect witty stroke. That at the same time takes on the hierarchy, has the outsider's view of saying, you know, I'm attacking the system, but at the same time it relies on the system to make the joke work.
INSKEEP: You've got a couple more variations: Semper I, then there's Semper Gumpy.
MONTAGNE: Semper Gumpy?
BAY: Well, yeah. Well that's another play on Semper Fi and it means always flexible.
INSKEEP: And then Semper Knife?
BAY: Another twist on Semper Fi, and it means somebody who's backstabbing.
MONTAGNE: Well, let's get back to some of the words.
BAY: Fobbit is a new word. Now fobbit (unintelligible) you're picking up off of Tolkien's hobbits, but forward operations base, that's a term that comes in in the lingo, F-O-B, a fob. In the 1990s, certainly it's a war-on-terror term. And now a fobbit has replaced rimp(ph) or suit as a put-down for someone who's not on the frontline.
INSKEEP: And fobbit, that's different than FUBAR, right?
BAY: Oh, very different than FUBAR.
INSKEEP: Just checking. That's actually not a term we can define here on the air. But perhaps (unintelligible)...
BAY: No, this is a family show, but you can get the drift of it. Here's the euphemistic translation. Fouled up beyond all recognition.
INSKEEP: Nah, it doesn't have the same punch.
BAY: No, it doesn't.
MONTAGNE: But you get the idea. But to go back to fobbit quickly, it means actually what?
BAY: It means a soldier who never leaves a forward operations base. They don't go beyond the wire. And it's used primarily, I would say, by the soldiers who are on the convoy duty or infantry armor outfits or patrol operations to put down somebody in a communications or intel unit that is located there at the protected headquarters. And so that's really what it means, and of course the wit of it is to appropriate Tolkien's hobbits and make it like they're little people.
INSKEEP: Just as we all hate our desk jockey bosses. That's basically...
BAY: There you go. And that's a nice connection.
MONTAGNE: Is there a word, an expression that can be used in a sentence that just so appeals to you?
BAY: There's one that I had never used, but this is one I got an e-mail. It's not one that I can use freely. But it's FUBIJAR. And it's a play on FUBAR, which I said in euphemism was fouled up beyond all recognition, and we'll call this one, fouled up but I'm just a reservist.
(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)
BAY: Sarcastic jab by a reservist at criticism from a regular. I wish I had had that when I was in Iraq. I would have used it. Part of the humor is an attack on the system or making fun of the ridiculous elements of the system. At the same time, there's a reinforcement of the group identity. Look at Semper I. That's an attack on somebody who is not helping his fellow soldiers. And part of the humor is a satirical attack on, well, let's just use the word here. I think it's appropriate, on the suck, what's gone wrong.
MONTAGNE: Which brings us around a little to your title, "Embrace the Suck."
BAY: That's a quip, but it's also a command and an encyclopedic insight: it's gone bad. This is a tough situation. You wouldn't be here if it weren't a broken, challenging, dangerous situation. And that's the suck. To put it in context, a historical context, General von Clausewitz talks about friction, how everything is going to go wrong in war. Murphy's Law reads, if it can go wrong, it will. And I've come up with base corollary, if it can go wrong, it already has and we just don't know about it. But that's the suck. And the idea behind embrace the suck is that, look, the situation is bad. Now let's deal with it.
MONTAGNE: Austin Bay, thank you.
BAY: Thank you very much, Renee.
INSKEEP: Austin Bay is author of "Embrace the Suck: A Pocket Guide to Milspeak."
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