MUNDANE MYSTERIES: Why Marines Are Called “Jarheads”

The US military has always had its own interesting language. To “hit the silk” is to use a parachute. Something that’s 20 kilometers away is considered 20 “klicks”. A flashlight can be called a “moonbeam.”

Most of the terminology is pretty obvious in what it means, but there’s one term that’s a bit more ambiguous: some military folk refer to Marine Corps members as “jarheads.”

Why is that, and what is “jarhead” in reference to?

Well, there are a few theories. The Marines were founded on November 10, 1775, as a subset of different military branches, before later becoming its own branch. The Marines have long used a uniform with a high-collar, originally made of leather, which once led to the nickname “leathernecks”. That high collar was thought to have given a Marine the appearance of his head sticking out of a jar, thus leading to the “jarhead” moniker (which was adopted around World War II).

Another physical trait may have also led to the nickname: the Marines’ trademark haircuts are short on the sides and square & flat on top, which could’ve looked like a jar lid to some.

It’s also possible the “jarhead” label referred more to the overall Marine attitude, as opposed to physical characteristics. Marines have long been seen at as durable & able to endure tough physical training, which led to a belief among other service members that Marines are hard on the outside while being able to hold inside whatever beliefs or orders are sent down from above. This theory is actually probably more true than others, since, as early as 1918, “jarhead” was a slang term used for a mule. Since mules were considered loyal & hardworking animals who are able to follow orders, it’s possible the “jarhead” nickname was ported over to Marines, who considered it a favorable comparison.

The “jarhead” label may be well-received or not depending on the Marine in question, but many Marines embrace it, since it designates them as unwavering in their sense of duty. Unless you’re also a service member, though, it’s probably best to let them be the ones to use that moniker.

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