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In Annie Hall, Woody Allen quips that he wasn’t accepted into the army because he was classfied as “4P” which prompts the interviewer and audience to laugh.

What did he mean? What does “4P” mean?

I tried looking it up, but could not find anything that seems to fit. Wikipedia shows a few options, none of which seem to apply. Acronym Finder seemed promising for a moment, but that only applies to the New Zealand military. Google has a small handful of references to this quotation from the movie, but none actually explain what it means.

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This has to do with the Selective Service System and the classifications by draft boards. - Woody Allen jokes that 4-P means that in case of a war he'd be a hostage. –  Oliver_C Feb 4 at 17:39
    
@Oliver_C You should probably post that as an answer. –  Meat Trademark Feb 4 at 21:31
    
That page does not mention a 4-P; I suppose he made it up. I can only assume that the audience (in the movie and viewers of the movie) got the joke because the Vietnam war was still fresh in their minds so they were familiar with the classifications. –  Synetech Feb 5 at 16:51
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Any classification prefixed with a "4" meant unfit for duty, with the following lettering explaining why. Conscientious objectors were common during the Vietnam War, and so the terminology was widely circulated/referenced. There is no real 4-P, which is why the interviewer asks him what it means...that's part of the joke. –  John Smith Optional Feb 6 at 11:27
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As another more recent example in movies is Captain America: The First Avenger - Steve Rogers repeatedly attempts to enlist and is rejected as a 4F, and is given a misleading 1A by Dr Abraham Erskine in order to recruit him to the unit that is going to turn him into a super-soldier. I think that 4F was the lowest rating given - hence the joke behind 4P –  iandotkelly Feb 7 at 0:58

2 Answers 2

up vote 0 down vote accepted

It's a joke written specifically for the narrative of the film. There was no "4P" draft classification during the Vietnam and people who were adults at the time that Annie Hall was first shown in theaters would have known or guessed that. It's a topical reference, like many others in the film, which is over the heads of viewers of the film now, almost 40 years after its release.

Here's a list of Vietnam War era draft exemptions:

http://www.calledtoservevietnam.com/blog/information-about-the-vietnam-era-draft/draft-classifications-during-the-vietnam-war/

Here's another:

http://www.swarthmore.edu/library/peace/conscientiousobjection/MilitaryClassifications.htm

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per John Smith Optional and his correct response, "Any classification prefixed with a "4" meant unfit for duty, with the following lettering explaining why. Conscientious objectors were common during the Vietnam War, and so the terminology was widely circulated/referenced. There is no real 4-P, which is why the interviewer asks him what it means...that's part of the joke."

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ah man, you could have at lest re-worded it! this is just pointheft. I suppose I should have posted as answer, but I was just elaborating on what Oliver had said... –  John Smith Optional Feb 7 at 11:20

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