This came up in a crossword and apparently 'gong' is British slang for a military decoration such as a medal. However I couldn't find any information on how this came to be by searching google and various dictionaries.

What is the origin of this slang?

4 Answers 4


Gong meaning a military medal probably comes from the idea of the ceremonial sounding of a gong:

  • (also gonger) An opium pipe (1914+ Narcotics)
  • A military decoration; medal or ribbon (British WWII use)

    • both senses probably from gong, ''saucer-shaped metal bell,'' of Malayan origin; the sense ''opium pipe'' may be related to the general association of gongs with Chinese matters, and the military sense to the notion that a decoration is something like the ceremonial sounding of a gong.

(The Dictionary of American Slang, Fourth Edition by Barbara Ann Kipfer, PhD. and Robert L. Chapman, Ph.D.)

  • With the correct attribution, good sleuthing. Feb 25, 2016 at 14:33

The word gong entered the English language via the 17th C. trade routes from Asia, where it denoted a disc-shaped metallic signaling device. Although we may draw a drapery of anglophonic ignorance over the Asian etymology of the word, it's fair to guess that onomatopoeia played a role.

See Dictionary.com for a quick rundown

Fast-forward to the 20th C., when British soldiers, no doubt wishing to affect a debonair and well-traveled mien, referred to their disc-shaped metallic military decorations as gongs in raffishly feigned deprecation.

Oh, hullo Threepwood. Nasty business with those 109's over Bremen; good they gave you a gong for it though.


Apparently, because of its shape according to the earliest citation from 1925 in OED.

A gong, a medal. (An old Army term suggested by the shape.)

Edward Fraser and John Gibbons · Soldier and Sailor Words and Phrases ·

Cassell's Dictionary of Slang (By Jonathon Green) gives an Anglo-Indian origin and 1910+ for the date of origin:

Anglo-Ind. gong, a metal disc, not musical, used for striking the hour, thus imported by Indian Army veterans

The Partridge Dictionary of Slang and Unconventional English (edited by Tom Dalzell, Terry Victor) gives 1921 for the date of origin but I couldn't find the citation.


Circular medals look like little gongs. Bear in mind that a lot of medals would have been handed out around the middle of the twentieth century, when the Rank film organisation (logo of a man hitting a gong) was a very prominent player in the British film industry.

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