The Military Has a Vocabulary All its Own. Here are Some Common Terms and Phrases

Deployed parachute sky blossom
An Army soldier conducts a static line parachute jump from a UH-60M Black Hawk helicopter, assigned to 16th Combat Aviation Brigade, 7th Infantry Division, at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Washington, Aug. 17, 2016. In military slang, a deployed parachute is known as a sky blossom. (Capt. Brian Harris/U.S. Army)

How would you respond if you heard someone say, “I’m a 90A, and I just finished up as the S1 for the 728th. I ran the battalion PAC and was responsible for OERs, NCOERs, awards and all MILPO actions”?

The military jargon used to communicate systems, positions, geography and terminology is plentiful. Within the military, it’s a shorthand that makes communication more efficient, although to civilian listeners, it can be confusing to say the least.

The U.S. military uses many unique items and concepts that civilians aren't exposed to. Because of this and the need for expedient, clear communication, service members are immersed in a linguistic world apart from the daily life of a civilian. Some are self-explanatory and others are completely cryptic, but they each have a specific and important (sometimes) meaning.

Be sure to check out's Glossary of Military Acronyms.

If you want to know more, check out our complete guide to the military alphabet.

What is Military Slang?

Military slang refers to the unique jargon and expressions commonly used by service members in the armed forces. Military slang is a way for soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines and Coasties to not only communicate more efficiently, but also as a way to build camaraderie with “insider” language.

Military slang typically includes abbreviations and other shortened ways of saying things, such as acronyms, nicknames for equipment, and more. It’s often direct and tinged with dark humor, reflecting the culture.

Military jargon and slang can change from region to region, and sometimes evolve over time and with different missions.

Military Terms, Slang, and Jargon


11 Bullet Catcher/Bang-Bang -- An Army infantryman.

40 Mike-Mike -- An M203 grenade launcher, usually mounted under an M-16 or similar weapon.


Air Picket -- Any airborne system tasked with detecting, reporting and tracking enemy aerial movements within a certain area of operation.

Alpha Charlie -- Military alphabet used to represent ass chewing. Defines getting verbally reprimanded.

Anymouse -- A lockbox on Navy ships where sailors may drop anonymous suggestions.

Ass -- Armored vehicles such as Strykers and Tanks.

Ate-Up -- Describes a service member who follows regulations so closely that they disregard the context of the situation. Conversely, may describe a service member who doesn't understand regulations at all.


Band-Aid -- A Vietnam-era term for a medic.

Bang-bang -- An Army term describing a pistol or rifle.

Big Voice -- Term used to describe the loudspeaker on a military base. The Big Voice warns of everything from incoming attacks to scheduled ordnance disposal.

Bird -- Helicopter.

Bitchin' Betty -- Most U.S. military aircraft feature warning systems that frequently utilize female voices. The phrase is derived from the same anthropomorphizing applied to GPS units in cars, only Bitchin' Betty's alert pilots to life-threatening situations.

'Black' on ammo, fuel, water, etc. -- A common phrase denoting a particular resource is gone.

Blowed up -- The state of being hit by an IED.

Blue Falcon -- A euphemism for buddy **** or buddy ****er, which is slang for a backstabber.

Bolo -- A derogatory remark for recruits who cannot pass marksmanship training. The idea being that if one cannot use a rifle, one must resort to a bolo.

Bone -- A B-1 bomber.

Bull**** Bomb -- A package intended to disperse propaganda leaflets.

Bullwinkle Badge -- Another name for the Air Assault Badge.

Burn Bag -- A bag used to hold shredded documents, designed to be burned. May also refer to a useless person.


Cannibalize -- The act of taking workable parts of one item and using them in another.

Chancre Mechanic -- Medical officer who checks service members for venereal diseases.

Charlie Foxtrot -- Commonly used expression utilizing the military alphabet to stand for clusterf***.

Chem-Light Batteries -- A mythical object that would be extremely, functionally pointless. Often the source of fruitless hunts embarked upon by hapless privates.

Chest Candy -- Ribbons and medals worn on a uniform. Can be insulting or applauding.

Chicken plates -- Sheets of protective material, called Small Arms Protective Inserts, which are used in the Interceptor body armor system.

Comics -- Term used to describe maps presented by military intelligence. The term is fairly derogatory in nature as a slight against the accuracy of the maps. It also refers to the brightly colored layouts and symbols usually included.

Commo -- Communications equipment or the individuals who operate it. Usually given to communications officers on U.S. Navy vessels.

CONUS -- Continental United States, the 48 states on the U.S. mainland (not including Alaska or Hawaii.)

Crank -- Navy term for a sailor pulling temporary duty in the galley.

Crumb Catcher -- Military slang describing the mouth.

Crusher -- Hats worn by pilots during World War II. The hat's wide top brim would need to be crushed down to allow for headsets to be worn.


DD 214 (Certificate of Release or Discharge from Active Duty) -- Every separated service member receives a Department of Defense (DD) Form 214 upon retirement, separation, or discharge from military service. This document states all the information related to their time of service (such as assignments, awards, dates of service, etc.) as well as the type and characterization of the discharge.

Dear John -- Common term referring to a significant other breaking up with a service member through a letter.

Demilitarized Zone -- A specific area in which any type of military force -- including but not limited to personnel, hardware and infrastructure -- are banned.

Digit Midget -- Usually used with a number as a prefix. X digit midget refers to the number of days till an individual goes on leave or retires.

Digies -- Digital camouflage worn by soldiers and Marines.

Dittybopper -- A term in the Army referring to signals intelligence radio operators trained to utilize Morse code. Also used as a verb to describe soldiers marching out of synch with a cadence.

Dope on a Rope -- Derogatory term used for air-assault soldiers.

Dust-off -- Specifically, a medical evacuation by helicopter.

Duty Station -- the geographic location at which a service member is conducting official duties. This may be a temporary location for professional military education or training, or it may be permanent (i.e., home station).

Dynamited Chicken -- Term originating in the Navy referring to chicken cacciatore or chicken a la king.


Embed -- When a reporter stays with the military in order to conduct journalistic business. They typically are provided with security and basic necessities provided by the unit they are embedded with.

Expectant -- A casualty who is expected to pass die.

Eagle Keeper -- Maintenance crew chief of an F-15.


Fang -- A verb to describe being rebuked, called out or otherwise disparaged.

Fangs -- A Marine Corps term for one's teeth.

Fart Sack -- Refers to a sleeping bag or an airman's flight suit.

Farts and Darts -- Refers to the clouds and lightning bolt embellishments found on Air Force officer caps.

Fashion Show -- A Naval punishment where a sailor is required to dress in each of his uniforms over a period of several hours.

Fast Mover -- A jet fighter. Aptly named due to the rapidity of a jet fighter's movement.

First Light -- The time of nautical twilight when the sun is 12 degrees below the horizon.

Flaming ***hole -- An Air Force term to describe the fiery effect of a jet plane turning on its afterburners during combat or any other military operation.

Flight Suit Insert -- Air Force slang for a pilot.

Fitty -- An M2 .50 caliber machine gun.

Five-Sided Puzzle Palace -- The Pentagon.

FOB (Forward Operating Base) -- Larger than a COP (smaller base located in a particularly hostile area.) A FOB typically offers more resources and comfort provisions such as hot meals, hot water and laundry facilities.

Football Bat -- An individual or way of doing things that is particularly odd.

Force Projection -- The ability of a nation-state to extend military force beyond their borders.

Fourth Point of Contact -- From rolling after a successful parachute drop: a term to describe an individual's buttocks. The first three points are feet, calves and back of the thigh.

Fruit Salad -- Slang for a service member's display of medals and ribbons on a dress uniform.

Fugazi -- Completely out of whack, ****ed up, screwy. This term originated during the Vietnam War and experienced limited use by civilians.


Galloping Dandruff -- An Army term used since World War I to refer to crab lice.

Geardo -- An Army term for a soldier who spends an inordinate amount of money on gear, regardless of actual need.

Gedunk -- Refers to snack foods, such as candy and chips, as well as the place they're sold. Associated with the Navy and can be used in the phrase "gedunk sailor" as a pejorative remark for inexperienced sailors.

Gofasters -- A term for sneakers used in the Army, Navy and Marine Corps.

GOFO -- Literally stands for "grasp of the ****ing obvious."

Gone Elvis -- A service member who is missing in action.

Grape -- A term with two meanings; one for the Air Force and one for the Navy. A Navy Grape is an individual who refuels aircraft. An Air Force Grape, on the other hand, refers to an easy assignment and can be used as a compliment when a service member makes something look easy.

Great Mistakes -- The name sailors have given the Great Lakes Naval Training Center north of Chicago. It references the closing of two other training facilities in San Diego and Orlando, which both feature far more enjoyable weather.

Grid Squares -- A nonexistent item recruits typically are told to go find.

Groundhog Day -- Term originating from the titular movie that refers to deployments that seem to proceed in the exact same way despite attempts to change them.

Gum Shoe -- Navy slang for a sailor cryptology technician. The first CT school was located on top of a building where tar would get stuck to the bottom of students' shoes.

Gun -- Term for a mortar or artillery piece. Must never be used within the military to describe a pistol or rifle.

Gunner -- A service member who operates a crew-served weapon, such as a piece of artillery or ship's cannon. 


Hangar Queen -- An aircraft that is used primarily for spare parts to repair other planes.

Hardball -- A hard-surfaced road.

Hardened Site -- A structure usually built under rock or concrete designed to withstand conventional, nuclear, biological and chemical attack.

Hat Up -- To change one's location. Refers to the need to wear a hat for the intended destination.

Hawk -- Term for cold weather. Commonly referred to as "the hawk."

Helo -- Short-hand term for a helicopter.

High Speed -- An individual who is highly motivated and at or near peak efficacy. Can be used sarcastically.

Hit the Silk -- Ejecting from an aircraft and utilizing a parachute.


IED (Improvised Explosive Device) -- A popular weapon with insurgencies in Iraq and Afghanistan, IEDs are roughly-organized, inexpensive bombs that are be easily modified to exploit an enemy’s vulnerabilities.

Inactive Status -- Members of the Reserves who are unable to train for points, receive pay and cannot be considered for promotion.

Ink Stick -- Marine Corps term for a pen.

Iron Rations -- Rations used in an emergency survival situation.


Jawa -- Term for an Army soldier who is stationed in a desert area, named after the desert-dwelling aliens of "Star Wars."

Jesus Slippers -- Military-issued shower footwear.

Jockstrap Medal -- Derogatory term for medals given by the military to active CIA members.

Joe -- Army term for a soldier. Shortened from G.I. Joe.

Joint Operation Planning -- All type of planning involving joint military forces in regard to military operations, including, but not limited to, mobilization, deployment and sustainment.


Kinetic -- Slang adjective meaning violent.

Klicks -- Kilometers.


Latrine Queen -- Air Force specific term for a trainee in basic who is in charge of the team responsible for cleaning bathrooms.

Left-Handed Monkey Wrench -- A nonexistent tool. Often the object of fruitless searches undertaken by recruits at the behest of more experienced service members.

Long Pig -- Slang for when a human being is used as a source of food. Typically this happens in extremely desperate situations.


Major Nuclear Power -- Any nation-state with a nuclear arsenal capable of being delivered to any other nation in the world.

Meat Identifier -- A dish or sauce that identifies what type of meat is being served. For example, cranberry sauce indicates turkey while applesauce indicates pork chops.

Meat Wagon -- Slang for an ambulance or any other medical emergency vehicle.

Moonbeam -- Marine term for flashlight.

MOS (Military Occupational Specialty) – Military jobs are classified by codes that attach to their specialty. The Army, Marines and Coast Guard call this an MOS (military occupational specialty) or MOC (military occupation code); the Air Force calls them Air Force Specialty Codes (AFSC). The Navy uses a system of ratings and the Navy Enlisted Classification (NEC) system. The Department of Defense lists more than 7,000 codes representing various job skills someone might perform while on duty.

Moving Like Pond Water -- Moving so slowly that a unique term is required to describe it.

Mustang -- Term referring to any officer who was promoted from the enlisted ranks. Can be used respectfully or pejoratively.


Nut to Butt -- The instruction used to tell soldiers to line up in a tight, forward-facing line wherein one's nuts are in extreme proximity to the butt of the soldier before them.


OCONUS – “Outside of the Continental United States”

OEF (Operation Enduring Freedom) – The combat operation that Veterans may have deployed to in support of the War on Terror, where the theater of operations was in Afghanistan.

Officer's Candy -- Navy term used by sailors to describe the scented cake placed in urinals.

Officer of the Deck -- Any officer charged with the operation of a ship. Reports to the commanding officer, executive officer and navigator for relevant issues and concerns.

OIF (Operation Iraqi Freedom) -- The combat operation that Veterans may have deployed to in support of the War on Terror where the theater of operations was in Iraq.

Over the Hill -- Missing in action or someone who officially has gone missing from their post.

Oxygen Thief -- A biting piece of slang for someone who's useless or talks too much.


Pad Eye Remover -- A nonexistent item used by sailors to trick new service members into a fruitless search. Pad-eyes are used to secure airplanes with chains.

PCS (Permanent Change of Station) -- When a service member and their family from one geographic unit location to another due to orders for a new assignment. This is not temporary; thus, the use of the word “permanent.

People Tank -- A U.S. Navy term for the inner hull of a submarine.

Pill Pusher -- A U.S. Navy term for a hospital corpsman.

Pink Mist -- A distinct effect created by certain types of gunshot wounds.

Pogey Bait -- Snack food. A "pogue" is an individual who does not serve on the frontlines and performs non-combat-oriented roles. "Pogey bait" is, subsequently, a bribe given to these individuals in exchange for expedited or high-quality services.

Pollywog -- A sailor who has not crossed the equator on a U.S. Navy ship.

Puddle Pirate -- Member of the Coast Guard. So called due to a fallacious belief that the Coast Guard never operates in deep water.

PX Ranger -- An individual who purchases, from the Post Exchange, paraphernalia unique to certain prestigious ranks or occupations and passes them off as though they earned the items.


Quay -- A man-made structure between a shore and land that can be used by ships to berth and is typically an area for handling cargo.


Rainbow -- A new recruit in basic training.

Red Team -- A body of experts on a specific topic who are instructed to research and suggest alternative methods regarding a planned course of action.

Remington Raider -- A somewhat derogatory term used for Marines given the harrowing task of performing office duties.

Rocks and Shoals -- U.S. Navy rules and regulations.

Rotorhead -- A helicopter pilot.

Ruck Up -- "Ruck" is short for "ruck sack," which refers to backpacks service members sometimes wear. To "ruck up" is to get through a particularly challenging or stressful situation.


Salad Bar -- Service ribbons found on a military uniform.

Sandbox – A desert area, specifically either Iraq or Kuwait. To say this is a short list is an understatement. Having a “cheat sheet” of commonly used terms is helpful for your hiring managers to refer to and use in interviewing and hiring. As an employer, work with your veteran hires to teach them common lingo and jargon for your company and industry, and accept that it might take time for your veteran employees to break old habits.

Scrambled Eggs -- The embellishments found on some officer's caps.

Self-Propelled Sandbags -- A derogatory term for a Marine based on their emphasis on fighting on the front lines.

Shavetail -- Second lieutenants in the U.S. Army. It primarily refers to the haircuts received in Officer Candidate School. The term's origins date to the time when the Army used pack animals, and handlers shaved the tail of newly broken animals to distinguish them from those more seasoned.

Shellback -- A sailor who has crossed the equator on a U.S. Navy ship. Responsible for turning all Pollywogs into Shellbacks once they cross the equator themselves.

Snake Eater -- Member of the U.S. Army Special Forces.

S*** on a Shingle -- A piece of toast with gravy.

Sky Blossom -- A deployed parachute.

Slick Sleeve -- A sailor who has not yet earned a rank that requires decoration on the sleeves.

Smoke -- To punish a service member with excessive physical work due to a minor infraction.

Snivel Gear -- Any equipment meant for use in cold weather. 

Soap chips -- A psychological operations (PSYOPS) tactic where fake letters from an enemy's home country are written and placed on bodies and battle wreckage. They include sentimental content, hint at the infidelity of loved ones back home and are designed to demoralize combatants.

Soup Sandwich -- An individual, object, situation or mission that has gone horribly wrong. The thrust of the term's meaning derives from the fact that it is incredibly difficult, some would say impossible, to make a sandwich out of soup.

Swoop -- Marine term for a weekend trip off base.


Taco -- An Air Force term for receiving an "unsatisfactory" grade on a training exercise due to the vague taco-shape of the letter "u."

Tango Uniform -- Slang for "tits up," which is the position dead bodies tend to face. The term can be applied to the deceased as well as broken pieces of equipment.

Target Discrimination -- The capability of a surveillance or guidance system to choose certain targets when multiple options are presented.

Trench Monkey -- A derogatory term referring to a member of the U.S. Army.

Twidget -- A sailor who repairs electronic equipment. Suggested by user X-USN-DS1.


Un-Ass -- To move immediately or leave one's current position.

Uncle Sam's Canoe Club -- A U.S. Navy term for the U.S. Coast Guard.

Unit Identification Code -- An alphanumeric, six-character string that identifies all active, reserve, and guard units of the United States military.


Voice in the Sky -- Term referring to military base announcements broadcast over speakers.

Voluntold -- An assignment that is technically voluntary but understood to be mandatory.


Weapons of Mass Destruction -- Weapons that can cause destruction or death beyond the ability of conventional weapons. These typically are nuclear, biological, chemical, radiological or high-yield explosive in nature. This definition does not include the vehicle, or transportation method, of delivering the weapon.


Zone of Action -- A smaller section of a larger area. Typically these are under the purview of a tactical unit, usually during an offensive maneuver.

Zoomie -- Term used by non-flying service members for anyone who operates a flying vehicle.

Lida Citroën and Tiffini Theisen contributed to this report. 

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