Questionable Origin of The Term "Leatherneck"
by Dick G
Dick G (Login Dick Gaines)
"It is questionable whether the origin of the term "Leatherneck" can be accepted as a legitimate member of the family of legends. More like a tradition, it is. For there can be no doubt of the origin, considering that U. S. Marines of three generations wore leather collars. It is as obvious as the nickname "Red" for a recruit with carrot-colored hair and freckles.
Now accepted by Webster as a synonym for Marine, the term "Leatherneck" was derived from a leather stock once worn around the neck by both American and British Marines--and soldiers also. Beginning in 1798, "one stock of black leather and clasp" was issued to each U. S. Marine annually.
This stiff leather collar, fastened by two buckles at the back, measured nearly three and a half inches high, and it prevented the neck movement necessary for sighting along a barrel. It supposedly improved military bearing, by forcing the chin high, although General George F. Elliott, recalling its use after the Civil War, said it made the wearers appear "like geese looking for rain."
The stock was dropped as an article of Marine uniform in 1872, after surviving through the uniform changes of 1833, 1839, and 1859. But by then it was a part of American vocabulary, a word preserved, like so many words, beyond its original meaning.
Etymology of the Word "Leatherneck"
The following material is from
, a list of etymologies of various words. Minor editorial changes have been made.
The chief dispute over the origin of this slang term for a marine is whether in originated in the Royal Marines or the U.S. Marines. The term is a reference to the high, leather collars that were once a part of marines' uniforms in both countries.
Although Mencken and Morris recount the tale that British sailors called marines leathernecks not because of their collars, but because marines washed only their faces, omitting the rest of their bodies, resulting in an unwashed and leathery neck.
Mencken comes squarely down on the British-origin side, stating that the term crossed the Atlantic during the First World War. He may be right about the British origin, but his dates are clearly wrong. Lighter's earliest American citation is from 1907, too early for the WWI crossing. The earliest unambiguous citation is a reference to the Royal Marines, dating from 1889-90. But Lighter has a British citation from 1823 that refers to U.S. Marines and their "leather neckcloths."
Complicating the arguments of those who claim an American origin, is the fact that the U.S. Marines abandoned their leather neck stocks in 1875, some 32 years before the first attested American usage of the term. It is possible of course, if unlikely, that the slang usage survived those years unrecorded.
Partridge suggests that it may be related to boot-neck, another term for a Royal Marine that dates from the mid-nineteenth century."
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