Just out of Boot Camp, and knowing almost nothing about how the Navy worked, I sat by as the sailors, and petty officers senior to me decided how to explain on a log sheet their idleness. The workday had been full of BS, coffee, and some very random work. It was my introduction to Gundecking.
The current term derives from the Royal Navy: the Midshipmen, officers in training, would take their noon navigational sights of the sun, scurry below to the gun deck, and “fix” the position of the ship in the ocean. Gundecking became the modern Naval name to what was surely an ancient practice dating back to Bronze Age sailors; an ancient and venerable maritime tradition that went along with raucous liberty ashore, and a penchant for storytelling.
By the time I came along, gundecking could be an art form in the hands of a master. Most gundecking is the simple checking off of boxes on reports for maintenance or inspection. But, more elaborate needs could require the use of Quiji Boards, modified game spinners, and critically the Magic 8 Ball.
Modern gundecking (pencil whipping in the non-naval services) is complicated and compounded by the sheer bureaucratic nature of life in either the military or civilian life. Everything has a checklist, report, protocol, diagnostic formula, or decision tree. Paperwork can get in the way of effective performance and you become enmeshed in meaningless BS that builds resentment. Perhaps that’s why the verb “to gundeck” is offset by the adverb “gundeckable”. It had to have been an officer or senior Non-commissioned Officer who derived this term because as we all know – problems always move up the Chain Of Command, and shit drops down. By the time you become a senior in any organization, you should either know all the tricks or have an intuition for them. Remember, that pencils, Magic 8 ball, Quija boards, and spinners have been around a while. If only to protect yourself (enlightened self-interest) you better figure out how gundeckable the reports and inspections can be.

Bear in mind that the general principle dates back to Bronze Age sailors. There are thousands of years of received sophistication going on here. A few years ago I looked into the open drawer of my financial advisor’s desk and saw his Magic 8 Ball. Think about that next time yours says “hold on. Let me check on that answer”. Here are a couple of guidelines: If he or she has any of the following on their wall: Plank Owner Certificates, certificates showing that they are Pollywogs, Shellbacks, etc., or pictures of their last ship, get out fast. Another sure warning is if they start every story with ” Now, this is no shit” – this TINS warning is especially dire being that it’s the traditional start of any sea story. Of course, you should also check the premises for signs of Quija boards, spinners, and the Magic 8 Ball.

Is there an actual cure for gundecking? Probably putting less of an emphasis on forms, and more on actual performance, pride in the job and professionalism. But, until that happens remember your best defense is knowing or learning the angles yourself so no one would even consider gundecking you.