Monday, December 16, 2013

Going Commando

 A recent clue in a New York Times crossword puzzle was “Not cover one’s butt?”  The answer, which I guessed (but just barely), is GO COMMANDO, which means “not wearing underwear.”

The origin of the phrase “go commando”—like so much else in this tempestuous world—is uncertain.  It has been traced to usage on college campuses in the 1970s (an inevitable result of panty raids), and it is inferred that it sprang from the Viet Nam war, where soldiers often went without underwear for comfort and dryness. Another theory of its etymology is that the absence of undergarments leaves certain parts of the body “without support”—like a commando unit in battle.  It’s also speculated that the phrase derives from “going regimental,” a Scottish military term used in World War I to describe the customary practice of omitting underwear beneath a regimental kilt.  And some say that it merely refers to a characteristic of commando forces who are “ready for action” at all times.

A commando in military parlance is a member of a raiding unit used to conduct hit-and-run operations behind enemy lines.  The word derives from Afrikaans and originally meant any military unit under a commander.  During the Boer Wars, from 1880 to 1902, the Boers used commandos as raiding parties against more conventionally arrayed British troops, and the word took on its current meaning.  In 1940 British commandos were organized as shock troops to repel any German invasion of England. 

Command, meaning to “direct in an authoritative manner,” derives from the Latin commendare, which means “to entrust” and hence to “direct those whose charge has been entrusted to one.”

The Bard of Buffalo Bayou takes a dim view of going commando for reasons that may be discerned in the following scurrilous verses. 

            An aspiring film stud from Orlando 
            Aimed for stardom by going commando. 
                        He thought tight-fitting jeans 
                        Worn in all of his scenes 
            Made him look like a young Marlon Brando. 

            But his friends said he’d best think again, 
            For no giant was he among men, 
                        His hopes were all hollow, 
                        And instead of Apollo, 
            He looked much more like Barbie’s friend Ken.

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