Since I did “boondoggle” mid-week, couldn’t resist checking out “boondocks” this time.

“Boondocks” is a rural area, a remote and wild place. Sometimes applied to an out-of-the-way city or town considered backward and unsophisticated.

The word was introduced by US military personnel fighting in the Philippine—American War (1899-1902), from the Tagalog “bundok” which means “mountain” or “remote and wild place.” Re-adopted during World War II, it also developed into “boondockers,” meaning shoes suited for rough terrain, or US services word for field boots.

According to military historian Paul A. Kramer, the term originally had “connotations of bewilderment and confusion,” due to the guerrilla warfare the soldiers were engaged in.

The original boondocks were the Cordillera Central, the spiny mountain range in the north part of the Philippine island of Luzon. There the word bundok is also a colloquialism referring to rural inland areas, which are usually mountainous and difficult to access, as most major cities and settlements in the Philippines are located on or near the coastline.

Similar slang or colloquial words are “the sticks,” “the wops,” “the chodes,” “the backblocks,” or “Woop Woop” in Australia and New Zealand, “bundu” in South Africa, and “out in the tules” in California.

“Down in the Boondocks” is a 1965 hit Billy Joe Royal song. It tells the story of a young man who laments that people put him down because he was born in the boondocks. He is in love with the boss man’s daughter and vows to work slavishly until, one day, he can “move from this old shack” and fit in with her society. Living in the boondocks—that is, the outskirts, the hinterlands, the rural or backwater side of the tracks—is what dooms Billy Joe’s love affair with the rich little girl from the “house up on the hill.”

Most Americans at home never heard the word “boondocks” until 1956, when six Marine recruits drowned during a training exercise at Parris Island. “The instructor said we were going out in the boondocks,” recruits testified at the subsequent court-martial trail. The scandal of the Ribbon Creek drownings splashed the word “boondocks” into the headlines for months. In the Vietnam era, it was commonplace to refer to rough areas as “the boonies,” and the word caught on for rural places stateside as well.

Ironically, the original boondocks are now a popular destination. The Luzon mountains are remote, but the incredible scenery there has led them to be dubbed the “eighth wonder of the world.” The ancient Ifugao rice terraces lining the edges of the cloud forest are now a UNESCO World Heritage site, and draw tourists from all over the world.

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