FilmDrunk Investigates: What does “If it shortdicks every cannibal in the Congo” from Full Metal Jacket mean?

I apologize in advance that this “isn’t news,” (*vigorous air quotes*) and it doesn’t (*more quotes*) “involve movies that came out in the last 20 years,” but I thought this was interesting enough to be worth posting. Basically, I was googling, trying to remember the precise wording of a line from Full Metal Jacket, which turned out to be “I WILL motivate you, Private Pyle, if it shortdicks every cannibal in the Congo!”

I hadn’t thought too hard about the phrase, but I always semi-subconsciously assumed that it was a reference to penis-shrinking superstitions in West Africa, like “I am going to motivate you Private Pyle! Even if I have to resort to dick-shrinking Africa magic!” (Also the name of my indie band’s first album).

As it turns out, this is a topic that has been debated on countless internet forums. In the interests of accuracy, I feel like there is a correct answer. There’s an interpretation I saw a few places that I would call the correct one, which says that to “shortdick” means to shortchange, and that the cannibals would be shortchanged because Private Pyle would become skinny and thus his disgusting fat-body could no longer feed the cannibals, most of whom live in The Congo simply for the alliterative value. Like almost all of R. Lee Ermey’s improvised lines, a masterpiece of colorful vulgarity. [Add’s Uproxx’s resident Marine, Matt Ufford: “I’d wager you’re correct: shortdick = shortchange. I never heard the phrase used myself, but ‘dick’ gets substituted for lots of other perfectly acceptable words simply because it’s borderline profane. Example: ‘dicked up’ instead of ‘messed up.'”] But just because I think there is one clear, correct interpretation doesn’t make the misinterpretations any less entertaining. The sheer volume of them alone is positively stunning.

Here’s a collection of interpretations I found on various forums:

Anonymous Coward says: I think he meant that he will bite the cannibals dicks off to motivate Private Pyle???? Just a guess though..

Elmo says: I was yelled at by many a DI [Drill Instructor] and never had a clue what they were saying.

GewGaw says: Maybe that’s the point Kubrick is trying to make — that the DI makes no sense, just as the war made no sense. Thanks for the input!

DaJavoo says: The DI WILL do every thing up to and including something that would be disgusting (taking a bite off of a cannibal’s dick) to MOTIVATE Pvt. Pyle to get with the program.

Anonymous Coward 2: ‘If I have to short dick every cannibal in the congo’ means he’s got a bigger dick than the africans and will be forced to prove it unless the private does what he’s told to.

Anonymous Coward 3: If I have to circumsize every cannibal in the Congo


Between the broken English and the all-caps, that last one might be my favorite. But there are plenty more…

Twelve says: I’m guessing short-dicking a man means disgusting him enough that he loses libido? Kind of like not being enthusiastic about having sex after seeing a naked old lady? The take-away message here is probably not sexual or anatomical in nature, but focuses instead on disgust or similar emotional reaction.

Perhaps the drill sergeant will do things to the Private that are not only outside of polite cultural norms, but even unthinkiable to savages that are willing to violate widely held taboos such as eating human flesh?

I love that this person is so academic and clinical while still missing the point completely. For those of you who haven’t been to grad school, this is exactly what it’s like.

DiePilot says: There was no Drill Sergeant at any point in that movie. [the Army has Drill Sergeants, Marines have Drill Instructors]

The way I always heard the term “Short-dicking” applied in the Corps, it was to indicate sexing a given woman with only the head or first little bit of the peen. That way, you got off but pissed the woman off no end.

Yeah, don’t ask. Marine culture is not to be understood from the outside in, really. We were also prone to things like hog contests and dogfights…which, yeah.

Anyway, the way I took the comment in the movie was that GySgt Hartman intended to motivate the weak, pitiful Pyle into something certain to piss off the cannibals, e.g. a smaller, tougher version of himself. [source]

Deborah says: hubby says it means in a nutshell( no pun intended) to screw over everybody living on the Congo. In other words get your a$$ in gear or else because one way or another you will do what you are told and keep up. note the blanket party Pyle recieved that the other guys held in his honor. that was an or else because the other guys got sick of him screwing up and having to take heat for it.

Something tells me I would not enjoy spending time with Deborah here.

Mike S: I always thought the remark dealt with mutilation. That he would kill each cannibal, and then cut “it” off. [Source]

SSG SCHWARTZ: Short dicks=Short changes.

I will motivate you if it cheats every cannibal on the Congo. Why cannibals on the Congo? Because it is alliterative. It doesn’t mean anything on its own any more than “f*ck the dog” or “closer than a red c**t hair.” Why does it have to be red, just because it is.
If you want to know how to cuss, ask an NCO.

Chronos says: Doesn’t lighter-colored hair tend to be finer in cross-section than darker hair? That would mean that, in fact, as close as a red c**t hair would be closer than as close as a brown c**t hair, so the distinction is meaningful.

This last sub-argument is a perfect example of why a group of more than three humans will never get along.

Smitty says: I interpreted it to mean the same as “…even if it hair lips the devil,” which is something I heard a lot growing up.

It means, “I will do this no matter how difficult it is for me to accomplish.” Giving the devil a hair lip, or cutting off the dick of every cannibal in the Congo would be hard work, hence the saying.

Why the reference to “short-dicking” the “cannibals?” Just another way to show his unpleasantness. All those colored folks over there are cannibals and have long schvantzes, don’t you know? [Source]

I admit, it doesn’t sound totally UNplausible…

Additional trivia:

  • Former USMC Drill Instructor R. Lee Ermey was not originally hired to play Gunnery Sgt. Hartman but as a consultant for the Marine Corps boot camp portion of the film. He performed a demonstration on videotape in which he yelled obscene insults and abuse for 15 minutes without stopping, repeating himself or even flinching – despite being continuously pelted with tennis balls and oranges. Stanley Kubrick was so impressed that he cast Ermey as Hartman.
  • Much, if not all, of R. Lee Ermey’s dialogue during the Parris Island sequence was improvised. While filming the opening scene, where he disciplines Pvt. Cowboy, he says Cowboy is the type of guy who would have sex with another guy “and not even have the goddamned common courtesy to give him a reach-around”. Stanley Kubrick immediately yelled cut and went over to Ermey and asked, “What the hell is a reach-around?” Ermey politely explained what it meant. Kubrick laughed and re-shot the scene, telling Ermey to keep the line.
  • Stanley Kubrick had nothing but praise for R. Lee Ermey’s skills as a performer. Kubrick originally was going to write dialogue for Ermey’s character himself, but he became so impressed with what Ermey improvised, that he decided it wasn’t necessary. He just let him ad-lib, something practically unheard of for a Stanley Kubrick film. Ermey’s performances were so faultless that Kubrick only needed 2-3 takes to get his scenes filmed, also extremely rare for a Kubrick film.  [via IMDB]