While reading Robert Crais’s detective novel L.A. Requiem, I came across an unfamiliar word (italics in the original):
First thing McConnell noticed was that this young officer was strac. His uniform spotless, the creases in his pants and shirt sharp, the black leather gear and shoes shined to a mirror finish. Pike was a tall man, as tall as Krantz, but where Krantz was thin and bony, Pike was filled out and hard, his shirt across his back and shoulders and upper arms pulled taut.
What followed the mention of strac implied its probable meaning, but to satisfy my curiosity I had to look it up. First port of call was Jonathon Green’s Chambers Slang Dictionary, which says it’s a US military acronym for Strategic Army Corps. I might have guessed this had the term been used in upper case.
Strac gave rise to stract – the headword in Green’s entry – a US prison usage from the 1990s meaning “neat and clean in appearance and dress”. Wiktionary’s glossary of military slang suggests an overlap, saying STRAC is US Army slang for:
“a well organized, well turned-out soldier, (pressed uniform, polished brass and shined boots).” A proud, competent trooper who can be depended on for good performance in any circumstance.
Chambers has a helpful note on the term’s history, quoting Dave Wilton on the American Dialect Society email list:
“STRAC.” Originally an [sic] 1950s acronym for Strategic Army Corps, a group of four elite divisions maintained at a high readiness for overseas deployment. It began to be used as an adjective, to be “STRAC” was to be prepared [...] After the demise of the Corps, the adjectival use hung on. A new, unofficial backronym was formed for it, “Skilled, Tough, Ready, Around the Clock.” It was very common in the US Army of the 1980s.
There’s no entry in the American Heritage Dictionary or Shorter OED, while offerings in the usual online spots are meagre. Urban Dictionary has two entries for “Skilled, Tough, Ready Around the Clock”, and one for “Strong, Tough, Ready Around the Clock”. For STRACT, Wikipedia offers “Strategically Ready And Combat Tough”, and says STRAC units
were those designated to be on high alert to move anywhere in 72 hours or less; as slang, means tight, together, by the book; when said with sarcasm by a combat unit about a REMF (rear echelon mother fuckers) unit it refers to stupid soldiers without combat experience.
There are even more alternatives listed at the Acronym Finder, some presumably backronyms, including “Standing Tall Right Around the Clock” and “Strategic, Tactical and Ready for Action in Combat”.
But the narrower, appearance-related meaning – phonetically suggestive of strict, sharp, straight, smart and strapping – is an interesting development. UD’s sole entry for stract has negative connotations: “overly concerned with standards and minute detail”, but these may not extend beyond one person’s impressions.