Thursday, March 03, 2011


Gung-ho is an abbreviated form of a longer Chinese phrase. The gung segment means work, and ho means together.

Japan invaded China in WWII, cutting off many of its industrial centers in urban areas in the eastern part of the country. This signaled the beginning of the downfall of the Chinese Nationalists (led by Chiang Kai-shek), who had previously focused on the cities and ignored the countryside. Chinese communists and private interests turned to small rural industrial operations called “industrial (work) cooperatives.”

This name was adopted by U.S. Marine forces under General E. Carlson. He headed the 2nd Marine Raider Battalion, a guerilla unit operating in the Pacific. According to the New York Times Magazine of November 8, 1942, “Borrowing an idea from China, Carlson frequently has what he calls ‘kung-hou’ meetings. ‥. Problems are threshed out and orders explained.” Consequently, his men began to call themselves the Gung Ho Brigade.

Ultimately, the phrase came to signify someone eager, zealous, enthusiastic, and dedicated to his or her endeavor.

Available from McFarland & Co.: Word Parts Dictionary, 2nd edition

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