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What's a Dependapotamus?

Is it a funny meme, a cruel insult, a fitting description? Just what is a dependapotamus?

By Nicola P. YoungPublished 5 years ago 5 min read
Photo from Pixabay via Pexels

In military circles, especially online, you’ve probably seen or heard some of the most popular slang terms used among military members. One you may or may not have heard of though are the terms "dependapotamus," or just "dependa." What exactly is a dependapotamus though? Well, the word is pretty self-explanatory: It is a combination of “dependent,” describing someone who is a military dependent, and “hippopotamus,” as in…well, a really chubby creature that chews with its mouth open. That’s more or less how the term is used, too: To refer to military dependents, usually the wives of service members, who don’t work, and leech off of their husband’s benefits.

Your Stereotypical Dependapotamus

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It is important to consider that there are a few different aspects of the term, its use, its meaning, and its effect. In general, the term refers to military spouses, usually military wives, who sit on the couch all day, living off their spouses’ military benefits, and eating junk food. The term is meant to paint an image of a lazy, usually overweight, leech on a service member, who uses their status as a "dependent" to avoid working, and spend all of their spouse’s money on designer handbags and other frivolous things. This term is often also associated with the kind of military spouse that uses their status as part of a military family to act and speak as though entitled to the same respect their spouse deserves: That is, spouses who speak as though they themselves are part of the military, and therefore leech not just financially off of their spouse, but also socially, demanding respect for something they did not earn and do not do. Needless to say, it’s not a compliment.

Use of the Term

Photo by Rahul Chakraborty on Unsplash

Obviously, the images associated with the derogatory terms are not flattering. For dependents who really do just take advantage of their spouse’s benefits in order to do nothing, well, fine, they are fitting; their use isn't really one that you use in face-to-face conversation much though, and they’re not meant to be part of an important conversation about relationships in the military. Rather, you’ll find that the Venn Diagram of what a dependa and dependapotamus is and who gets called one is not a circle. Because social media enables people to anonymously post, or at least distance themselves from their words, it has become a breeding ground of toxicity. Therein lies the issue with the application of these kinds of terms: Maybe in an ideal world, they refer to a kind of person that exhibits all of these selfish, toxic behaviors; but in online interaction especially, they’re so often used by people who don’t really know the person they’re talking about, they become a way for some military spouses and members to put themselves above others and signal their superiority, deserved or undeserved.

Some Things a Dependapotamus Isn't

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So now that we've covered generally what a dependapotamus is, let's get a few things straight on what a dependapotamus isn't. First of all, it's not a term that refers generally to military spouses, or even military spouses who don't work. Plenty of stay at home moms and spouses do their part to be part of a healthy, symbiotic relationship—not a parasitic one. The controversy over the use of these terms, and their invocation of bullying and mean-spiritedness, come from an attitude among many, usually other military spouses, to put down wives and stay-at-home moms that don’t work, and therefore live financially off of their husband’s benefits. While taking advantage of a military member’s work and sacrifice is unconscionable, and fully deserving of such derogatory terms in my book, just because a spouse does not work does not mean they are not contributing valuably to the relationship. Stay-at-home moms and spouses outside of the military are the same: Some are parasitic leeches, taking advantage of their spouses’ work, while others use their position productively, to be good parents, to help take care of business at home, or to contribute in any number of other significant ways.

Another issue with the associations regarding what a dependapotamus is has to do with appearance. Military families who post photos on social media open themselves to this kind of ridicule from total strangers, especially if they’re overweight. Mocking a healthy relationship because one party is overweight is not generally accepted though, and so such assumptions should not be made about military families. Doing so implies these people are lazy, fat, selfish dependents and blurs the lines between stereotypes and associations between them and hard-working stay-at-home moms and spouses who are good for their significant others serving our country.

A Dependapotamus

So, after all that, what is a dependapotamus? Is it a fat, lazy, benefits-seeking military wife? Or just a derogatory term used to put down other military spouses, empty of meaning outside of this mean-spiritedness? Well, I’m guessing that answer is going to depend a lot on the experiences of the one answering. Military members who have suffered toxic relationships of this kind are probably well within their rights to harbor ill feelings. Military spouses who think they’re better than other military spouses simply because they go to work though? Well, that’s a bit less clear, and it's one of the things you should never say to a military wife anyway. Families, military ones included, function in many different ways. Some are healthy, others are not (well, all of them are somewhere in between, but more or less). The same goes for dependents who don’t work—it may be an unhealthy, parasitic dependapotamus situation, or it may be a perfectly healthy relationship between two people.

A final note: While there’s understandable frustration within the military community regarding non-military members who act as though they themselves put in the same work and sacrifice as military members, there is a huge difference between this kind of social status-seeking spouse, and a military spouse who talks about some of the more difficult aspects of being married to someone in the military. A quick tip for new military wives is that this line is not always an easy role to play, and it does involve a lot of sacrifice and difficulty that non-military spouses don’t have to deal with. Discussing these hardships does not mean that a person thinks they have the same struggles as actual military members, and there’s nothing wrong with wanting to discuss some of the difficulties of one’s own life—even if those difficulties are less than those of others.

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About the Creator

Nicola P. Young

Lover of Books, Saxophone, Blogs, and Dogs. Not necessarily in that order. Book blogger at

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