Military terminology

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A "bag nasty" in military terms (otherwise called an A ration in the United States Marine Corps)

Military terminology is the words and acronyms used by military organization and members of various militaries. Military terms may have the same spelling as common words but mean something very different.[1] Common terms may also differ between militaries of English-speaking countries.[1] They also differ in their use of abbreviations. For example, British and American abbreviations for the same thing may be very different.[1] Military terms can also be specific to one branch of a nation's military or to a specific war or period of time.

Doublespeak[change | change source]

Some terms are intentionally intended to obscure, disguise, distort, or otherwise change the meaning of words. This is called "doublespeak". For example, the United States reduction of troop strength in Afghanistan is called by American troops "the retrograde."[2] This is from an old military euphemism meaning to retreat (no military likes to admit it retreats). Some phrases are so strange that nobody outside the military understands them. "15 minutes prior to 15 minutes prior" refers to military people being told to show up 15 minutes early for everything.[3] So when a commanding officer says there will be a meeting at "06:00" (6:00 a.m. on the 24-hour clock), it means to show up at 05:45. When junior officers repeat the order to the sergeant, to him it means 05:30, and so on. By the time it filters down to the lowest ranking soldier, it can mean be there by midnight.[3]

Acronyms[change | change source]

To listen to military people talking, everything seems to be in acronyms. For instance, "I was on the FOB when the IDF hit, so I radioed the TOC"[3] (I was on the Forward Operating Base when the Ineffective Direct Fire hit, so I radioed the Tactical Operations center). Military people seem to love using acronyms which is probably why there are so many of them.[4] New recruits, military families and even seasoned veterans are expected to know most if not all the current acronyms.[4]

Phonic alphabet[change | change source]

To say letters out loud, over the phone or when it might be unclear what letter is being pronounced a phonic alphabet is used. On ships, a navy would use flags for different letters of the alphabet. The NATO phonetic alphabet (with flags) is:

Alpha.svg A Alpha Foxtrot.svg F Foxtrot Kilo.svg K Kilo Papa.svg P Papa Uniform.svg U Uniform Zulu.svg Z Zulu
Bravo.svg B Bravo Golf.svg G Golf Lima.svg L Lima Quebec.svg Q Quebec Victor.svg V Victor
Charlie.svg C Charlie Hotel.svg H Hotel Mike.svg M Mike Romeo.svg R Romeo Whiskey flag.svg W Whiskey
Delta.svg D Delta India.svg I India November.svg N November Sierra.svg S Sierra Xray.svg X X-ray
Echo.svg E Echo Juliet.svg J Juliet Oscar.svg O Oscar Tango.svg T Tango Yankee.svg Y Yankee

This is used often in military acronyms. For example, Bravo Zulu means "well done", a compliment.[5] It was taken from naval signal manuals meaning the same thing. However, if someone were to say "B Z" nobody would understand.[5] if someone used the term Whisky Tango Foxtrot it means "what the fuck?"[5] Posed as a question or used as an interjection, it is at least a little more polite than saying the words.[5]

Terms most people get wrong[change | change source]

References[change | change source]

  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 Military Intelligence Service, War Department (15 May 1943). "British Military Terminology" (PDF). U.S. War Department, Washington, D.C. Archived from the original (PDF) on 25 September 2012. Retrieved 13 September 2016., p. 1
  2. Ben Brody (4 December 2013). "U.S. Military Lingo: The (Almost) Definitive Guide". NPR. Retrieved 13 September 2016.
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 Geoffrey Ingersoll (2 January 2014). "31 Phrases That Only People In The Military Will Understand". Business Insider. Retrieved 13 September 2016.
  4. 4.0 4.1 "Military Acronyms". Military Spot. Sun Key Publishing. Retrieved 13 September 2016.
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 5.3 Conrad Brown (30 April 2013). "These Military Phrases Are Harder To Say Than Their Meaning". Task & Purpose. Retrieved 13 September 2016.
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 6.3 6.4 6.5 6.6 6.7 David Nye (16 July 2015). "8 Military Terms Civilians Always Get Wrong". Under the Radar. Network. Retrieved 13 September 2016.
  7. "Origins of Navy Terminology". United States Navy. Retrieved 13 September 2016.

Other websites[change | change source]