Origin of "click" for "km"

Discussion in 'English Only' started by James Brandon, Aug 4, 2011.

  1. James Brandon

    James Brandon Senior Member

    Greater London (UK)
    English + French - UK
    I was in Vietnam in Oct.2010, and I noticed that the locals who spoke English used "click" to mean "kilometre", more particularly in the South. E.g.: It is 20 clicks from here = 20 km from here.

    A search on line reveals that it is indeed a term used, presumably by the Americans originally, in Vietnam, in the days of the Vietnam War (known in Vietnam as the American War).

    http://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=click

    I was wondering whether this is American slang, used in the US, or it is army slang, of American origin (hence the Vietnam connection); also, I was wondering why "click".

    Insight welcome.
     
  2. PaulQ

    PaulQ Senior Member

    UK
    English - England
    From Wiki:
     
  3. sdgraham

    sdgraham Senior Member

    Oregon, USA
    USA English
    My memory is that it originated shortly before the Vietnam conflict when the American military went metric to conform to the rest of NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization)

    For example, .30 caliber rifles became 7.62 mm.

    I left the military back in 1961 when we dealt with miles, yards and inches.
     
  4. Egmont Senior Member

    Massachusetts, U.S.
    English - U.S.
    It's usually spelled "klick" in this context, perhaps by analogy with the first letter of "kilometer."

    Apparently it became popular in Vietnam but was in use at least well back into the 1960s, probably the 50s - so it may have originated in Korea or even World War II. Here are two pages that give (their version of) some background:

    http://usmilitary.about.com/od/theorderlyroom/f/faqklickdef.htm
    http://www.quora.com/What-is-the-origin-of-click-klick-as-a-unit-of-distance

    I doubt anyone here will have a really authoritative answer to this, but I'll follow this thread in the hope of being proved wrong.
     
  5. panjandrum

    panjandrum PongoMod

    Belfast, Ireland
    English-Ireland (top end)
    The OED's earliest example (it has to be a written example):
    1967 H. Wentworth & S. B. Flexner Dict. Amer. Slang Suppl. 678/1 Click, a kilometer.
    Etymology obscure.
     
  6. Egmont Senior Member

    Massachusetts, U.S.
    English - U.S.
    My second link in post 4 above provides two earlier written examples: one from 1965, one from 1960.

    (This is not to fault the poster, who provided valuable information, but to suggest that the OED's compilers could have been more thorough.)
     
  7. MuttQuad

    MuttQuad Senior Member

    New York, NY
    English - AmE
    I seem to recall the term being used in the TV series M.A.S.H. (Mobile Army Surgical Hospital) whose stories take place during the Korean War in the 50s.
     
  8. panjandrum

    panjandrum PongoMod

    Belfast, Ireland
    English-Ireland (top end)
    The OED is always happy to hear about earlier written examples. I'll pass on the link :) Thank you.
     
  9. James Brandon

    James Brandon Senior Member

    Greater London (UK)
    English + French - UK
    Ok, this has clarified the matter and confirmed what I had guessed and also read on line, i.e. that it would be an American expression (probably), more particularly used in the military, perhaps as early as the 1950s (or even a bit before), and, certainly, into the 1960s and 1970s, hence the link to the war in Vietnam. The spelling 'klick' could be more accurate than 'click' in this context, but some sources seem to be saying that both spelling are possible. Thanks.

    I must say I have never heard the expression used in the UK or by a British person anywhere. And I did not hear it in Australia when I was there for a few weeks, a few years ago.
     
  10. natkretep

    natkretep Moderato con anima

    Singapore
    English (Singapore/UK), basic Chinese
    Australians say kays, not klicks, for kilometres, as in 'I went for a ten-kay run.'
     
  11. James Brandon

    James Brandon Senior Member

    Greater London (UK)
    English + French - UK
    I mentioned Australia because one of the articles given by one of the contributors as reference says that the origin of the term 'click' may be Australian.
     
  12. Egmont Senior Member

    Massachusetts, U.S.
    English - U.S.
    This usage is common in U.S. running circles as well. We measure most distances in miles, but road races are generally laid out in standard metric distances. "What's your best time for 10K?" is the sort of thing one might hear when lining up for the start. I've never heard a runner use "klicks" in this context. If someone asked me "What's your best time for ten klicks?" I'd probably try to figure out how fast I can press the button on a computer pointing device.

    My own best time for 10K was, alas, run several decades ago. I'm fairly sure I could still beat it for 5K, though. :(
     
  13. Alxmrphi Senior Member

    Reykjavík, Ísland
    UK English
    Yeah I came across this for the first time last year when watching an American TV show, I thought it'd been invented by the writers at first then I heard it somewhere else, then went to check and saw it meant kilometres. Saying "kay" for 10k is really common here in the UK, too.
     
  14. pops91710

    pops91710 Senior Member



    The Wikipedia version of the odometer clicking is suspect. First, there was no auduble click to them, and second, every vehicle I ever drove while there in Vietnam never had metric odometers. They were standard miles/mph. (Maybe they were Aussies?)
     
  15. PaulQ

    PaulQ Senior Member

    UK
    English - England
    Although I have no great faith in the odometer theory, I will say that when the miles change on an odometer, I might say, "Oh, look, it's ticked over to 50,000." There is of course no 'tick.' If you imagine how odometers work, you could see why there might be a click even though there isn't. The question of metric odometers would not arise as the troops were simply reporting the distance and measuring it in kilometres on an imaginary odometer.

    I suspect some forgotten soldier who couldn't be bothered learning the word, "kil-om-eater, kiloh-meter, ki-lom-itter" simply said, 'Klicks' one day and it stuck.
     
  16. pops91710

    pops91710 Senior Member

    A lot of vets I have asked think it came from the 'click' on mortar sights. How that morphed into 1 kilometer is anybody's guess. :confused:
     
    Last edited: Aug 5, 2011
  17. James Brandon

    James Brandon Senior Member

    Greater London (UK)
    English + French - UK
    I suppose that, in the case of the Vietnam War, the reference to kilometres stemmed from the fact Vietnam used (and uses) the metric system (having been a French colonial possession). But I would have thought the US Army's equipment was based on non-metric measurements (for sights, for vehicles, for guns, etc.).

    This is a technical point but it does relate to the term "click" and I think one contributor has referred to it: Is all equipment metric in the US armed forces, and this would be due to integration into NATO? I am a bit surprised by that, because America probably is the last bastion of non-metric standards, today, far more so than the UK, which has ditched Imperial measurements, for all intents and purposes (but for a few relics such as the pint of milk or the pint of beer, and of course the mile).

    I know that, in British industry (e.g.: car industry), all parts are measured in metric, and it has been the case since the 1970s I believe: this was due to the integration into the Common Market as it was then known. The Imperial system was dropped, as it is known in the UK. (As we know, US non-metric measurements, although derived from the British system, tend to be a bit different: cf the gallon.)
     

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