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I'm reading Thomas Pynchon's Vineland, and I came across a phrase I'm unfamiliar with. For context, Zoyd (the main character) has taken a job playing music on a temperamental synthesizer in a flying Hawaiian-themed cocktail lounge.

Zoyd was presented with a thick tattered fake book full of Hawaiian tunes, and on the lounge synthesizer, a Japanese make he'd heard of but never played, he found a ukulele option that would provide up to three orchestral sections of eight ukes each. It would take several flights across the Pacific Ocean and back before Zoyd felt easy with this by no means user-friendly instrument. The critter liked to drift off pitch on him, or worse, into that shrillness that sours the stomach, curtails seduction, poisons the careful ambiance. Nothing he could find in the dash-one under the seat ever corrected what he more and more took to be conscious decisions by the machine.

What the heck is a "dash-one" in this context? Googling the phrase (or searching on this site) yields a lot of people debating whether to use one dash or two when writing, so it's difficult to find this phrase in any other context.

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  • It sounds like a version ID for some sort of document, but I haven't a clue as to what. The "fake book", of course, is a book of chord sequences to play different tunes, but whether the "dash-one" refers to another fake book or perhaps some sort of manual for the synthesizer or something else is hard to say.
    – Hot Licks
    Apr 1, 2017 at 19:44
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    Googling [Vineland "dash-one"] immediately returned A Readers' Guide to Thomas Pynchon's Vineland by John Diebold and Michael Goodwin, which says: p. 62 "dash-one" = military slang for the user manual. A common element in Pynchon's work is his peppering of slang phrases and references stemming, presumably, from his two years in the US Navy. Further googling ["US Navy" terminology "dash one"] confirms this, and tells us such manuals were named after their "XXXX-1" designation.
    – Dan Bron
    Apr 1, 2017 at 19:44
  • @DanBron: nice find; I'll have to bookmark that page to consult as I read the rest of the novel. If you write it up as an answer, I'll be happy to accept it. Apr 1, 2017 at 20:03

1 Answer 1

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According to Babies of Wackiness: A Readers' Guide to Thomas Pynchon's "Vineland", by John Diebold and Michael Goodwin, first edition August 1990, updated through 2002¹:

p. 62 "dash-one" = military slang for the user manual. A common element in Pynchon's work is his peppering of slang phrases and references stemming, presumably, from his two years in the US Navy.

Further Googling² suggests this is indeed military slang; for example, on Navy.mil, we find DoD FLIGHT INFORMATION PUBLICATION AREA PLANNING NORTH AND SOUTH AMERICA (31 JUL 2008), where we see a clear reference to "Dash One" in the context of aircraft:

JETTISON PROCEDURES - Request external stores jettison permission and clear jettison area. Tower will notify RSU crews and direct an approach parallel to the runway in the direction of traffic at 700’ MSL. Jettison area is approximately 1000’ E of Rwy 13L-31R (CBM 010/1). Release the stores as to impact abeam mid-field in open area. Inform tower of applicable Dash One requirement

And on a military enthusiast bulletin board, under the heading Little-know military terminology and phrases:

"Dash One" refers to the operator's manual (or user's guide) for a particular piece of equipment. Every military tech manual is asigned an alpha-numerical identifyer. The ones which end with a suffix of "-1" are the most basic and simplified version designed for the typical user.

And, as a concrete example, another reference on Navy.mil, in NAVAL AIR TRAINING COMMAND, FLIGHT TRAINING INSTRUCTION (NAS CORPUS CHRISTI, TEXAS CNATRA P-562 (New 08-09))

A DD-175‌-1 Flight Weather Briefing Form, or “Dash One”, shall be completed whenever an IFR flight plan is filed.

This document is to be filled out by airmen, as opposed to used as an operating manual, but it's a clear example of a document being nicknamed "Dash One" after the -1 suffix of its designation.

In short, as in many bureaucracies, in the Navy, a set of related documents are often given a broad designator (above, DD-175), and then individual documents from the set are enumerated with suffixes (-1), so they can be referred to specifically. Often, the first document ("dash one") will be the most fundamental or basic³.


¹ Protip: putting multi-word terms in quotes when searching Google makes sure to find that term as a unit, so if you use ["dash one"] you shouldn't get results talking about "one dash" (vs. two), and if you combine that with another term that's unlikely to appear together with the first in anything except your original context, like ["dash one" vineland], you'll narrow your search very quickly.

² In this case, ["US Navy" terminology "dash one"].

³ The "internet famous" government-spook-spoof community, the "SCP Foundation" (for Secure, Contain, Protect) plays on this trope by numbering its mythical monsters "SCP-###", and related or sub-components of the beasts as "SCP-###-1", "SCP-###-2" ... "SCP-###-N".

For example, "SCP-086", a set of sentient (and malevolent) '70s-vintage office equipment, including SCP-086-1, a rotary telephone, SCP-086-2, a wall-mounted pencil sharpener, ... SCP-086-5, a water cooler, ... and SCP-086-08, a slide rule. "Dash one", the telephone, is its brain.

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