Created By: morgulknight1 on October 10, 2011 Last Edited By: morgulknight1 on October 13, 2011

Nicknaming the Enemy

Soldiers in war come up with a one or two syllable name for the enemy

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Soldiers often come up with a name for the enemy that's easy to remember, usually quicker to say than their actual name. Sometimes this is a racial or ethnic slur; sometimes it's a cultural reference, and sometimes refers to appearance. Doing so is commonly a form of Demonization and has the effect of 'Othering' the enemy, making them seem less human, thus keeping the troops from considering the enemy's humanity, and thus making it easier for the troops to kill them. For that reason, the practice is often encouraged (or at least not discouraged) by the troops' superiors while the war's going on. In science fiction or fantasy settings, this is made even easier when the enemy is not the same race as the troops.

These designations often find a way into propaganda and slogans used to whip up civilian support for the war effort, and continued use of these terms after the war can indicate a person who lived through the war and either adopted the term as a habit of speech or is having trouble moving past those years.

Compare to Demonization, What Measure Is a Mook?.
Community Feedback Replies: 30
  • October 10, 2011
    • World War Z: United States soldiers referred to the undead as Zack; in the United Kingdom and Europe, they called them Zed.

  • October 10, 2011
    I think this needs a No Real Life Examples slapped on it.
  • October 10, 2011
    Drat, I was going to suggest the Germans being called The Huns.
  • October 10, 2011
    In Horatio Hornblower Frenchmen are always referred to as Frogs.

    In Honor Harrington, Havenites call Manticorans Manties and Manticorans call Havenites Peeps
  • October 11, 2011
    • Robert Heinlein's Starship Troopers.
      • Humanity's main opponent was officially known as the Arachnids (or Pseudo Arachnids), but the MI called them the Bugs.
      • The other opponent. As far as I know their official name was never mentioned, but the MI called them the Skinnies.
    • Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle's Footfall. The invading aliens are called the Fithp, but humans call them Snouts because they look like baby elephants with two trunks.
  • October 11, 2011
    In the Worldwar series, humans are called Big Uglies, the Race are called Lizards.
  • October 11, 2011
    In The Dresden Files, being The Nicknamer, Harry Dresden does this with most of his enemies (and his allies tend to pick them up). Since I Know Your True Name is in effect in this universe this is actually quite a good strategy (some enemies are actually weakened by being referred to by nicknames).
  • October 11, 2011
  • October 11, 2011
    I think a No Real Life Examples ban could present a problem for historical fiction, such as the Horatio Hornblower example already given.

    I also think the description might be fleshed out a bit. Perhaps this is too analytical, but I understand the reasoning behind this phenomenon is that it strengthens the "othering" of the foes, denying both their individual and collective humanity (even for the alien examples by extension). This makes it easier to kill them and to justify doing so. One or two syllable words are also useful for the staccato language often provoked or demanded by the fast pace of combat, as well as being slangy and dismissive.
  • October 11, 2011
    Why No Real Life Examples? It's a well documented phenomenon, and not subjective in any way.
  • October 11, 2011
    Unknown Troper
    The "Buggers" in Enders Game
  • October 11, 2011
    @69BookWorM69, I agree on both counts; with regards to mentioning 'othering' the enemy or dehumanizing them, I was going to mention that in the description but found myself pressed for time. World War Two vet turned literary historian Paul Fussell that, "It is a truism of military propaganda that monosyllabic enemies are easier to despise than others. A 'kraut' or a 'wop' is instantly disposable in a way a German or Italian isn't the later 'gook.'"
  • October 11, 2011
    In Halo, the marines call the Elites "split-lips."
  • October 11, 2011
    ^ In fact, most alien names in the Halo universe fit this trope: Grunts, Jackals, Brutes, Elites, Hunters, Buggers, Grubs, and Prophets are all nicknames given by humans to refer to the separate races that compose the coalition of aliens they're at war with. Even their vehicles (Ghosts, Wraiths, Banshees) are nicknamed.
  • October 11, 2011
    @Topazan because these nicknames are offensive, intended to dehumanize and demonize.
  • October 11, 2011
    What about the slightly less pejorative affiction of common names to ethnicities, based loosely on their proper names, such as Jerry for Germans and Charlie for Vietcong?
  • October 11, 2011
    Those are almost certainly less offensive, but we do need to be careful.
  • October 11, 2011
    Historical use aside, Nearly every work of fiction set during The Vietnam War will feature soldiers referring to Charlie.
  • October 11, 2011
    @surgoshan: That doesn't make talking about them inherently offensive. Otherwise we wouldn't have tropes like N Word Privileges.
  • October 11, 2011
    Every military science fiction story that includes alien enemies. No exceptions.

    In fact, there are so many that it would be better to only include the most notable, and aversions and subversions.

    Also, every military non-science fiction story. Heck, anything military includes this.
  • October 11, 2011
    In the Star Wars expanded universe, the Rebels derisively call Imperials "Bucketheads".
  • October 11, 2011
    @surgoshan: as Bisected said, there's nothing wrong with documenting 'offensive' tropes. They're tropes like any others. How about Scary Black Man or Magical Negro?
  • October 11, 2011
    • In Sunshine the Cops nickname the dangerous vampire boss they are looking for "Bozzo". This is ironic, because his real name is Beauregard and his real nickname is "Bo".
  • October 11, 2011
    • Enemy Mine: Dracs are called "lizards" by humans.
    • MASH: both North & South Koreans are occasionally called Gooks by unsympathetic guest characters.
    Works made in (or to a lesser extent made later but set in) World War Two refer to Japanese as "Japs" or "Nips" (short for Nipponese), and Germans "krauts."
  • October 11, 2011
    @pure.Wasted and Bisected, you're right. Tropes can be, by definition, offensive. I don't think we should be scared of acknowledging that.

    I withdraw my objection to including offensive tropes. I do request that we ask for respect and that we acknowledge that this is a trope about hate for the enemy and that sometimes that enemy is real. And still alive.
  • October 12, 2011
    Falling Skies - the aliens are called Skitters
  • October 13, 2011
  • October 13, 2011
    Battlestar Galactica's remake has the cylons as "Toasters". Human-form cylons are also called "skinjobs".

    I don't mind Real Life examples somewhat, as they tend to crop out in historical fiction alot.
  • October 13, 2011
    @surgoshan - Documenting racial terms is not the same as actually using them to oppress people - in fact, saying No Real Life Examples here could qualify as erasure. I understand your concerns, though. Maybe a note saying 'only Real Life examples that fully fit the trope description apply', to avoid us getting people listing racial slurs used by non-military types (which is off-topic, and therefore offensive).
  • October 13, 2011
    • Blade Runner uses the term "Skinjobs" to refer to Replicants.
    • Series/Ultraviolet, a character who is a former soldier refers to Code 5's as "leeches".
    • Space Above And Beyond: The term "Chigs" were used to refer to their alien enemies.
    • The Mote In Gods Eye:
      • The humans nickname the aliens "Moties", since its believed that the alien probe came from the star called "The Mote". Though, it's done more as they don't know the alien's name.
      • "Outies" refer to anyone trying to fight aginst the Second Empire of Man.

    The Honor Harrington series has nicknames for all the major powers. In addition to the already mentioned Peeps and Manties:
    • "Andy" for the Andermani Empire.
    • "Silly" or "Confeds" for the Silesian Confederacy.
    • "Solly" for the Solarian League.