"Give 'em the Green Weenie"?

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Back on February 6, in an interview on CNN with Candy Crowley, Alan K. Simpson (a former Republican senator from Wyoming who was co-chair of President Obama's National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform) said:

If you have a- hear a politician get up and say
"I know we can get this done, we're going to get rid of all earmarks,
all waste, fraud, and abuse,
all foreign aid, Air Force One, all congressional pensions" — pffft!
That's a sparrow belch in the midst of a typhoon,
that's about six eight ten percent of where we are.
So I'm waiting for the politician to get up and say
"there's only one way to do this,
you dig in to the Big Four: Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, and Defense".
And anybody giving you anything different than that,
you want to walk out the door,
stick your finger down your throat, and give 'em a-
the Green Weenie.

Since then, there's been a certain amount of discussion about what it really means to give someone the '"Green Weenie". The award for creativity goes to Gail Collins and David Brooks, in my opinion ("Let's Talk About Social Security", 2/9/2011):

Gail Collins: My first question, of course, centers around defining a green weenie.

David Brooks: This is a slur against Martians, where the green weenies are oppressed by the green football players. I hear that anti-Martian feelings run deep in Wyoming.

Gail Collins: It’s certainly a good example of Senator Simpson’s overly colorful speaking style — this time he even threw in an actual color.

But in the same interview, Simpson himself makes it clear that the color in question refers to the U.S. Army rather than to Martian stereotypes:

… with oak leaf clusters — in the army, we used to say that.

And according to Wikipedia, "He served in the United States Army in Germany from 1955–1956 with the 10th Infantry Regiment, Fifth Infantry Division and with the 12th Armored Infantry Battalion, Second Armored Division."

My memory of army slang from the late 1960s is that "getting the Green Weenie" was a mildly sexual expression for getting mistreated, usually by the military chain of command, presumably based on weenie as diminutive of wiener as a euphemism for penis. And the "Am I getting the green weenie?" topic in the Army Study Guide Forums indicates that this is still what it means today. Wikipedia's "List of United States Marine Corps acronyms and expressions" gives additional support to this hypothesis:

big green weenie — an expression denoting that a Marine has been "fucked over" or cheated by the Marine Corps, usually in relation to an inconvenience or unfair treatment

So when I heard Simpson's expression, I understood "give 'em the green weenie" as a creative transfer of phallic euphemism to form a nonce expression for "give 'em the finger". The business about (the pantomiming of) induced vomiting I took to be just the piling up of colorful expressions.

But on Rachel Maddow's blog, there are some other suggestions in the comments (Laura Conaway, "Tracking down the 'green weenie'", The Maddow Blog 2/8/2011):

In the Vietnam era, Green Weenie was a fictitious, ultra-virulent, incurable STD that could be acquired in the East Asian theater that resulted in not only the descriptive coloration but the eventual shriveling and loss of the affected appendage.

I'm only a little younger than Simpson. In my university days, "The Green Weenie" signified the end of a relationship. "I thought we were getting along just fine, but she slipped me The Green Weenie. I guess it's back to beer and bridge this weekend."

These are what we called "Green Weenies" or "Greenie Weenies", they're JUST the green scouring pad without the sponge, when you're in boot camp and you hear "get on the deck and start using your green weenies on that" you really wonder what the motivation was for naming it that.

On the air, Rachel Maddow went with a different explanation:

MADDOW: So it is more than just a green weenie. It is a green weenie with oak leaf clusters, which sounds very much like a military word.

So then we did what anybody would do in this situation at this point in this investigation. We contacted the awesome reference librarians at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point to help us.

Thanks to them, and they were truly awesome, we can tell you with some confidence that Alan Simpson‘s use of the term “green weenie,” which so upset Candy Crowley this weekend, was probably him employing a slang term for the army commendation medal.

Why is that called a green weenie? Well, the “Dictionary of Soldier Talk” says, quote, “The army commendation medal was about the only decoration for meritorious service or achievement that most enlisted men and junior officers could hope to win.”

“The cynical nickname probably arose among soldiers who didn‘t get a medal to show their disdain toward those that did. Later, when the decoration passed out indiscriminately, the term ‘weenie‘ began to make sense.”

“Green is from the basic color of the service and suspension ribbons, while ‘weenie,‘ a frankfurter sausage, may have a phallic significant.”

Don‘t look at me. I did not write it. So now, we know what a green weenie is. And it would make sense. You know, I mean, think about what‘s going on here, giving out a green weenie for not cutting very much spending.

That would be consistent with its slang meaning as a sort of undeserved anti-award that you get for nothing. It makes sense.

In a different direction, Wikipedia tells us that the "Green Weenie"

… was a sports gimmick co-created by Bob Prince (1916–1985), the legendary broadcaster for the Pittsburgh Pirates Major League Baseball team, and Pirate trainer Danny Whelan. It was most popular during the 1966 baseball season in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA.

The Green Weenie was a green plastic rattle in the shape of a hot dog, which when waved at opposing players, purportedly put a jinx on them. Conversely, when waved at Pirate players it allegedly bestowed good luck.

The superstition began during a 1966 game against the Houston Astros, when Danny Whelan shouted from the dugout at Astros' pitcher Dave Giusti, "You're gonna walk him!" while waving a green rubber hot dog in the direction of the pitcher's mound. Giusti did walk the batter, and the Astros lost the game. During the next game's broadcast, Prince quizzed Whelan about the frankfurter incident, and the gimmick was born. Within weeks, Green Weenies were being sold to fans at Forbes Field.

A different evolved form of the military term was apparently current at Stanford University in the mid-1960s, according to Stevan Harrell, "G. William Skinner, 1925-2008" The China Quarterly 2008:

For me, Bill Skinner was 42 years of superlatives. The tallest, the thinnest, the blondest, the nattiest, the fussiest, the courtliest, the earliest, the tardiest, the scariest, the grammatically stickliest, the most systematic, the most synthetic, the most eclectic, the most perfectionist, the greatest connoisseur, the hardest worker, the most loyal, the most generous, the most intimidating, the most inspiring, the most interesting, the most important person in my professional life.

Sometime in Fall 1966 as an audacious 19-year-old junior, I found my way through the sandstone columns of Stanford's Old Union to the temporary office of some new professor who taught the anthropology of China, to ask if I could enrol in his Winter Contemporary Chinese Society class without the prerequisite. Why did he agree? He asked me where I had done my undergraduate work, and loaded me down with a thick syllabus and bibliography list. Even as an undergraduate I felt his magnetism and his intellectual force. Like everyone else in the China studies community at Stanford, I both got what we called The Green Weenie – "It's a nice paper, but it shows an almost militant disregard for all important theoretical considerations" – and received the benefit of hours' worth of tiny squiggles from his famous Red Pen, culminating in summary comments like "very encouraging," or "deserves further work." Positive comments like those were not as immediately memorable as The Green Weenie, but in retrospect they were probably more common, and when they happened they made our day.

And 40 years later, another evolutionary outcome was prominent enough in business circles to form part of the title of a book about corporate cant: Ron Sturgeon, "Green Weenies and Due Diligence: Insider Business Jargon-Raw, Serious and Sometimes Funny", 2005.

In the few minutes of web search that I devoted to this topic, the most interesting thing that turned up was a couple of somewhat cryptic mentions in a book about the USS Wasp, in a chapter entitled "Fighting Squadron 14". The section begins

This is the story of Fighting Squadron 14, as told by the Iron Angel, the spirit of the squadron. It deals mainly with the formation of the unit and the months of training in the United States before going to the combat zone. Achievements and losses in the Pacific War are another story.

(This establishes the time period as the early 1940s, probably 1942-43.)

Both of the "green weenie" references are in connection with parties, and from context the "Green Weenie" was some sort of fund into which "Dilberts" were required to pay fines for unspecified offenses:

Newt's brain child, the "Green Weenie", made it's appearance and the Squadron Dilberts paid through the nose.

As usual the Green Weenie picked up a little more cash from the Dilberts, …

More of the context is here:

None of this research changes my initial opinion that Senator Simpson used "give 'em the green weenie" as a euphemism for "given 'em the finger". (Though "the green weenie" in fact seems likely to be more offensive to delicate minds than "the finger", so perhaps he was instead trying for a more forceful expression rather than a less offensive one.) But the spectrum of associated meanings — especially those in the "booby prize" direction — may also have guided his choice.

Update 2/18/2011 — Jesse Sheidlower writes that

There's an entry for this in Jon Lighter's Historical Dictionary of American Slang; the first quotation is from Park Kendall's 1944 Service Slang, where "Green weinie" [sic] is defined as "anything bad". The next quote is from a 1959 baseball novel, where it as described as "an old baseball term" of which a character says "I've been using it for years."


  1. Victor Mair said,

    February 14, 2011 @ 7:56 am

    My immediate reaction to Senator Simpson's "green weenie" was that it is a combined reference to giving someone the finger and doing so while spewing forth green vomit upon them. My consciousness has been forever scarred by the scene in "The Exorcist" where green vomit pours out of Regan's mouth. We all know, of course, that reverse peristalsis can be induced by sticking one's middle finger deep in the back of one's throat, so vomiting and giving the finger have a natural affinity. Adding to that the surreal green of Regan's monumentally voluminous barf, it still seems the most natural interpretation of "green weenie" — and I say this even after having read through all of Mark's learned research on the term.

  2. Joyce Melton said,

    February 14, 2011 @ 8:50 am

    I'm ex-Army myself, '69-'75, and when I was in uniform, the Green Weenie was understood to be when the service or the government in general or one's officers callously or indifferently messed things up for someone. Especially if a presumed benefit turned out to be the cause of extra obnoxious or dangerous duty.

    There was definitely a sexual component to it and frequently an ironic comeuppance. "She thought she would get promoted for all that extra work but all she got was the Green Weenie."

    The gesture of changing "flipping the bird" into gagging oneself goes back to high school for me.

  3. Jim Lawry said,

    February 16, 2011 @ 5:00 pm

    I had an uncle who during the 60's used the term 'green weenies' to reference those fan-folded 132-column printouts produced by the mainframe computers of that era – the paper itself had alternating green and white horizontal bars.

  4. sally said,

    February 17, 2011 @ 11:29 pm

    Come from wsj. Read the above. Interesting. Much research. Thanks. I take away from this article the idea that the Green Weenie is giving someone a nasty task to do.

  5. Green Weenie said,

    August 23, 2014 @ 7:30 pm

    3.5 years later, I find this. My father used to talk about green weenies. It had a specific meaning to him. He was an administrative officer at Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio from circa 1966 until early 1969. His job, as I understand it, was to basically handle the admin for wounded soldiers at the hospital – pay them, keep their paperwork and orders up to date, etc, take care of their bureaucratic needs. One other thing he did was pin medals on them. A "green weenie", as he explained it, was a medal that practically everybody in the hospital got, since they were practically all wounded in Vietnam. It was kind of the minimal, least significant award he would hand out. He talked about having drawers full of them. So getting a green weenie was kind of like a kiss-off from the Army. If they were really happy with you, they'd have given you a bronze or silver star. If you got the green weenie, well…

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