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I have read one historical joke, that during the Civil War Officer's shoulder bars were called "pumpkin rinds". Where are these mysterious shoulder bars from? I can find only shoulder boards or straps on the net. Is it some military slang? Obsolete form? Local variant? Or simply an error of the joke writer?

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freepages.genealogy.rootsweb.ancestry.com/~poindexterfamily/… says "pumpkin rinds" are specifically gold lieutenant's bars. – MετάEd Feb 13 '12 at 16:42
An image of the gold bars can be found here: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_States_Army_officer_rank_insignia – MετάEd Feb 13 '12 at 17:04
Related question about insignia on shoulders – Kit Z. Fox Feb 13 '12 at 17:26
@MetaEd But that page says that 2nd lieutenant bars were not introduced until 1917, which is well after the American Civil War. – Kit Z. Fox Feb 13 '12 at 17:30
Also related: scrambled eggs. – Paul Richter Feb 14 '12 at 0:38
up vote 5 down vote accepted

Shoulder bars are symbols of rank worn, as the name implies, on the shoulder.

Here's a page on ebay where someone is selling a WW2 variety: http://www.ebay.com/itm/WWII-US-NAVY-OFFICER-SHOULDER-BARS-/110564952372

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+1. Thank you, you and MetaEd thus have shown, that it is a normal word. Of military termiology, of course. (Only MetaEd was the first, no offence meant) – Gangnus Feb 13 '12 at 20:08

They are called epaulettes.

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According to Wikipedia, epaulettes are not the same as shoulder straps. In fact it appears that you would commonly attach your epaulettes to the shoulder straps of the shirt or jacket. Shoulder bars would be military insignia (bars) which are attached to the shoulder straps. – MετάEd Feb 13 '12 at 16:34
@MetaEd: From the same article: "Colloquially, any shoulder straps with marks are also called epaulettes." – Robusto Feb 13 '12 at 16:42
Conceded. However I still do not agree that epaulettes would be a word for pumpkin rinds. It appears from the source I cited in my comment on the question that pumpkin rinds are specifically the gold bars, not the straps having the marks on them. – MετάEd Feb 13 '12 at 16:44
@MetaEd: It could refer to the fringes on the epaulettes. Who knows? The point is, the OP asked a clear question in his title and the rest of the question is not a marvel of clarity. – Robusto Feb 13 '12 at 17:01
+1 Thank you, my maternal language (Russian) uses this word, too. I only wanted to understand, if the word "bars" could be normally used now, or it is obsolete or slang. – Gangnus Feb 13 '12 at 20:09

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