This word has various meanings. It’s a visual paradox of a three-pronged object whose outlines are impossible. It’s also a five-pound bag full of ten pounds of shit, and thus any situation that is difficult to deal with. However, it’s not entirely clear exactly what Peter Straub was referring to in this Vietnam episode in Koko, but I favour ‘any random object of unknown purpose’.

Military usage

In traditional U.S. Army slang dating back to the Second World War, a blivet was defined as “ten pounds of manure in a five pound bag” (a proverbial description of anything egregiously ugly or unmanageable); it was applied to an unmanageable situation, a crucial but substandard or damaged tool, or a self-important person. In Cormac McCarthy’s All the Pretty Horses, Rawlins defines a blivet as “10 pounds of shit in a 5 pound bag”. During the Vietnam War, a heavy rubber bladder in which aviation fuel or POL (petroleum, oil, and lubricants) was transported was known as a blivet, as was anything which, once unpacked, could not be replaced in its container. The usage of blivet for a fuel container is still current. A recent request for quotation (‘Solicitation number W91B4P-07-Q-0615 titled “Fuel Point Bill of Materials”‘) in Afghanistan includes a line item for “10 50,000 gal. blivets”.

In various United States Air Force communities (e.g. Strategic Air Command), blivet may have referred to what are euphemistically called “Special Weapons” whose presence are officially neither confirmed nor denied. Usage apparently derived from the original cavalry definition.

In some areas of the U.S., it refers to a juvenile prank, clearly connected with the original military usage: a sack full of excrement is ignited on the victim’s porch, while the pranksters ring the doorbell and run. The victim attempts to put the flames out by stamping on the bag. This may also be related to the term’s claimed use as military slang for a land mine, not well-documented.

In the United States Unmanned Aerial Systems community (specifically Shadow UAS) a blivet is a tool used to test the system’s launcher to ensure proper functionality. The Shadow system’s blivet weighs approximately 375 lbs – the same as a fully fueled Shadow 200 Tactical Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (RQ-7B). It is a green hexagonally shaped piece of iron with four mounting points.

In Naval Aviation, a blivet is the common term for an external baggage container carried on a tactical jet.

Source: Wikipedia.


/bliv’*t/ [allegedly from a World War II military term meaning “ten pounds of manure in a five-pound bag”] 1. An intractable problem.

2. A crucial piece of hardware that can’t be fixed or replaced if it breaks.

3. A tool that has been hacked over by so many incompetent programmers that it has become an unmaintainable tissue of hacks.

4. An out-of-control but unkillable development effort.

5. An embarrassing bug that pops up during a customer demo.

6. In the subjargon of computer security specialists, a denial-of-service attack performed by hogging limited resources that have no access controls (for example, shared spool space on a multi-user system).

This term has other meanings in other technical cultures; among experimental physicists and hardware engineers of various kinds it seems to mean any random object of unknown purpose (similar to hackish use of frob). It has also been used to describe an amusing trick-the-eye drawing resembling a three-pronged fork that appears to depict a three-dimensional object until one realises that the parts fit together in an impossible way.

Source: Free On-Line Dictionary of Computing.

Michael could see M. O. Dengler bouncing along a high narrow trail, grinning over his shoulder at him, blivets and ammunition strung across his back.

Source: Koko by Peter Straub.