Doughboy was an informal term for a member of the United States Army or Marine Corps, especially used to refer to members of the American Expeditionary Forces in World War I, but initially used in the Mexican-American War of 1846-48. A popular mass-produced sculpture of the 1920s, the Spirit of the American Doughboy, shows a U.S. soldier in World War I uniform.
The term was still in use as of the early 1940s – for instance in the 1942 song "Johnny Doughboy Found a Rose in Ireland," recorded by Dennis Day, Kenny Baker and Kay Kyser, among others; as well as the 1942 musical film Johnny Doughboy and as a character "Johnny Doughboy" in Military Comics – but was gradually replaced during World War II by "G.I.".
Although it was best known from its usage for American troops in the First World War, the origins of the term are unclear. The word was in wide circulation a century earlier in both Britain and America, albeit with different meanings. Horatio Nelson's sailors and the Duke of Wellington's soldiers in Spain, for instance, were both familiar with fried flour dumplings called "doughboys", the precursor of the modern doughnut.
Independently, in the former colonies, the term had come to be applied to baker's young apprentices, i.e. "dough-boys". The New World version of doughboy was a linguistic cousin to "dough-head", a colloquialism for stupidity in 19th Century America. In Moby-Dick, Herman Melville nicknamed the timorous cabin steward "Doughboy."
Doughboy as applied to the infantry of the U.S. Army first appears in accounts of the Mexican-American War of 1846-48, without any precedent that can be documented. A number of theories have been put forward to explain this usage:Cavalrymen used the term to deride foot soldiers, because the brass buttons on their uniforms looked like the flour dumplings or dough cakes called "doughboys", or because of the flour or pipe clay which the soldiers used to polish their white belts.
Observers noticed U.S. infantry forces were constantly covered with chalky dust from marching through the dry terrain of northern Mexico, giving the men the appearance of unbaked dough or the mud bricks of the area known as adobe, with "adobe" transformed into "doughboy".
The soldiers' method of cooking field rations of the 1840s and 1850s into doughy flour-and-rice concoctions baked in the ashes of a camp fire. This does not explain why only infantryman received the appellation.
The American usage was adopted in the UK by c.1917.
One explanation offered for the usage of the term in World War I is that female Salvation Army volunteers went to France to cook millions of doughnuts and bring them to the troops on the front line, although this explanation ignores the usage of the term in the earlier war.
One joke explanation for the term's origin was that in World War I, the doughboys were "kneaded" in 1914 but didn't rise until 1917.