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From former U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo:

This is apparently a reference to the Pipe Hitter Foundation, established a year ago by accused war criminal Eddie Gallagher.

Why "pipe hitter"? According to a 6/17/2020 SOFREP article by Steve Balestrieri, "Former Navy SEAL Eddie Gallagher launches 'Pipe Hitter Foundation'":

The term is thought to date back to the late 1800s but was given new life by the 1994 Quentin Tarrantino classic film “Pulp Fiction.” One of the main characters, a gangster named Marsellus Wallace used the term when preparing to torture a man.

Marsellus Wallace: “I’m gonna call a couple of hard-pipe hittin’ n****s to go to work on the homes here with a pair of pliers and a blow-torch. You hear me talkin’, hillbilly boy?! I ain’t through with you by a damn sight! I’ma get medieval on your ass!”

That film was thought to be the catalyst for SEALs and Special Forces to start using the term. It has come to mean someone who can always be counted on in combat.

The original meaning, according to Cassell's Dictionary of Slang, referred to someone who smokes opium or crack cocaine:

The implication of the term's usage in Pulp Fiction is clearly that crack smokers have left all inhibitions behind, and specifically are willing to engage in violent torture:


  1. Philip Taylor said,

    June 18, 2021 @ 1:10 pm

    I don't think the Mr Balestrieri transcribed the dialogue 100% accurately — what I hear is "I'm-a call a couple o' hard pipe-hittin' niggas to go to work on the homes here wid a pair o' pliers 'n' a blow-torch. You hear me talkin’, hillbilly boy ? I ain’t through with you by a damn sight ! I'm-a gettin' mediæval on your arse". Main differences no "gonna" before "call", and "I'm-a gettin'" before "mediæval ". Also "hard pipe-hittin'", not "hard-pipe hittin'", although whether one can actually pronounce a hyphen is, I suppose, somewhat moot.

  2. Seth said,

    June 18, 2021 @ 1:21 pm

    I think the length of the pause between the words maps onto the location of the hyphen.
    That is the hyphen represents a shorter than normal separation.
    It's definitely what would be transcribed as "hard pipe-hittin" to my ears.
    It also makes more sense, they're (hard) and (pipe-hittin) – double aggressive.
    Not (hard-pipe)(hittin), which would just be a single aggressive.

  3. Thomas Rees said,

    June 18, 2021 @ 1:51 pm

    Does Pompeo reallywant to advocate crack smoking, even metaphorically?

  4. J.W. Brewer said,

    June 18, 2021 @ 2:32 pm

    I doubt that SEALs and Special Forces operators think that crack-smoking is positively correlated with being a reliable comrade in combat, from which it follows that users of the word in that particular speech community do not think of it as encumbered with the etymological baggage the usage in and prior to Pulp Fiction came with. Obviously if the word then emerges from that specialized speech community back into the broader speech community where plenty of speakers will be more familiar with the crack-smokin' sense, things are no longer so straightforward, and hilarity may ensue.

  5. Brett said,

    June 18, 2021 @ 3:38 pm

    @J.W. Brewer: I don’t think I am familiar with this usage from any source except Pulp Fiction, and yet I inferred the connection to crack smoking pretty easily from Marcellus’s speech.

  6. Batchman said,

    June 18, 2021 @ 4:54 pm

    There is a parallel here with "assassin", which originally referred to hashish smokers and now refers exclusively to those who will exercise fatal aggression. The difference is that assassins are still treated with opprobrium, even by Seals and Pompeo, presumably.

  7. Peter Taylor said,

    June 18, 2021 @ 5:29 pm

    The phonetic representation is intriguing. Aside from the apparent mixture of two or three typefaces, what's the «i with macron»? OED gives the US pronunciation of the two components as /paɪp ˈhɪdər/.

  8. Philip Anderson said,

    June 18, 2021 @ 5:59 pm

    The Special Forces usage presumably relates more to a willingness to use violence without inhibition than to crack-smoking as the source of that behaviour.

  9. R. Fenwick said,

    June 19, 2021 @ 12:45 am

    @Philip Taylor: in your transcription you overtly transcribe "wid" for the first with, but for the second with you use the standard "with you" for the form in which the classic AAVE sandhi form [wiʧu] is used. Any particular reason for that? As well, the final sentence clearly doesn't have I'mma getting, but I'mma get, the same future construction as I'mma call at the beginning of the quote.

    From a linguistic point of view, there's not yet as big a body of research on the AAVE tense/aspect system as there could and should be, so it's hard to confirm how systematic the distinction is, but I wonder if it's worthy of note that the I'mma X form that Marsellus Wallace deploys twice here is what some researchers have identified in AAVE as a specifically immediate future form, as distinct from the more indefinite future in I'm gone (pronounced [goun], not [gɒːn] as in the participle of go). Given that later in the same exchange with Butch he also refers to Zed as "Mister Soon-To-Be-Livin'-The-Rest-Of-His-Short-Ass-Life-In-Agonizin'-Pain Rapist here", it'd be fascinating to think that Marsellus's choice of the immediate future tense/aspect form adds yet another bit of emphasis to exactly how imminent Zed's fate will be.

    (Unrelatedly, was there a reason also for substantially dialling up the eye-dialect as compared to Balestrieri's? It comes across as very othering.)

  10. Philip Taylor said,

    June 19, 2021 @ 3:33 am

    Rhona, no, no particular reason. I simply reported what I heard, but I will listen again and see if I can hear your version when pre-primed by exposure to it in text.

  11. Arthur Baker said,

    June 19, 2021 @ 5:18 am

    Philip Taylor, "arse" would suggest the speaker is British, Irish, Australian or a New Zealander. If the speaker is American, I'd probably go with "ass".

  12. Gregory Kusnick said,

    June 19, 2021 @ 9:11 am

    I'm wondering if Pompeo thinks "pipehitter" is some kind of oblique reference to Joe the Plumber.

  13. Robert Coren said,

    June 19, 2021 @ 10:46 am

    @Peter Taylor: It looks like they're using some kind of mixed phonetic representation. /hɪtər/ does look like IPA, but the i-macron reminds me of the system used for decades by Merriam-Webster.

  14. Robert Coren said,

    June 19, 2021 @ 10:47 am

    "Go medieval on your ass" is not a threat that would have occurred to me, and I wonder what it's supposed to mean.

  15. Joseph A. Post said,

    June 19, 2021 @ 11:10 am

    @Robert Coren: "Go medieval on your ass" draws on the conventional view of the Middle Ages as several centuries of knights in shining armor, jousts, mead-drinking, and creative torture (iron maidens, etc.). Ages tend to get popular images of their own, having little to do with reality. In one episode of Woody Allen's "Everything You Wanted to Know About Sex But Were Afraid to Ask," set in the Middle Ages, a court jester says ""We'd better hurry because soon the Renaissance will be here and we'll all be painting."

  16. Doug said,

    June 19, 2021 @ 11:18 am

    @Robert Coren @Peter Taylor

    Yes, I'd say they're mixing IPA with what I'd call the "traditional" system of showing English pronunciation.

    When I attended US (New York) public schools 40-50 years ago, none of my classes made any use of IPA as far as I recall. Whenever pronunciation came up, i-with-macron represented the "pipe" vowel, and i-with-breve represented the "pip" vowel, and similarly for "fate" vs "fat" etc.

  17. Meg Wilson said,

    June 19, 2021 @ 1:36 pm

    Philip Taylor and Seth, there is a literature on the pronunciation changes that occur with compounding, and my recollection is that the two main factors are pitch and stress. Consider the difference between "home sick" and "homesick."

  18. Jerry Friedman said,

    June 19, 2021 @ 2:36 pm

    R. Fenwick: (Unrelatedly, was there a reason also for substantially dialling up the eye-dialect as compared to Balestrieri's? It comes across as very othering.)

    I'd say the writing and performance of that speech come across as very "othering", in the sense that the result is far from standard English and the standard-ish varieties that Philip Taylor and you and I write. So I don't have a problem with Philip's 'n' and such. However, I agree with Arthur Baker that "ass" would be better than "arse".

  19. Philip Taylor said,

    June 20, 2021 @ 5:17 am

    To clarify, I was reporting what I heard, with no value-judgements made or implied. Ideally the whole exercise would have been carried out in IPA, but as Mr Balestrieri chose to do otherwise, so did I. However, the question of "arse" v. "ass" is an interesting one, at least to me — if I heard a North American say /ˈkʌl ə ǁ -ᵊr/, then if I were simply reporting what I heard I would report that he said "colour"; and if I heard him say /ɑːs/ I would report that he said "arse" (the 'r' is silent in all but the most rhotic British dialects). But if I heard him say /æs/, then I would report that he said "ass". Or to put it another way, I mentally transcribe back into standard British English the sounds that I hear, regardless of the nationality of the speaker. And if a sound does not have a standard British English counterpart, then I adopt a broad transcription such as «wid» or «'n'» which attempts to communicate not only the sound heard but also the word which it was intended to signify — we are, after all, discussing sounds, not ethnicity, race or residence.

  20. John Swindle said,

    June 25, 2021 @ 6:31 am

    Google reports some jobs for (and some currently employed as) pie fitters.

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