23 Slang Terms Only Veterans Know
No, a fobbit is not related to a Hobbit.
Have you ever gone to see the latest wartime action blockbuster only to come out wondering, “What on earth were they saying?” There is in fact a certain vocabulary that service members must adhere to when they join the military, or suffer the consequences. But luckily, military jargon is not rocket science. To guide you, we’ve broken down the most common slang words that only veterans know. And if you need to watch your words around active service members, here are 20 Things You Should Never Say to Someone in the Military.
1. As you were
Much like the British phrase “carry on,” “as you were” is a command given by an officer after a room has come to attention for their entrance. It signals that airmen have permission to continue with their work.
Example: “As you were, Cadets—I’m just passing through.”
Someone with no military bearing who is messy is said to be “ate-up.” Related nicknames include: chopped up, chewed up, Chewie, and Chewbacca.
Example: “Can you believe he’s wearing tennis shoes with his uniform; how ate-up is that?”
3. Barney style
When an instructor breaks something down “Barney style” for the group, it’s explained as if it were to a child, just like the big purple dinosaur would do in the children’s television show Barney & Friends.
Example: “What do you mean you don’t know how; do I need to break this down Barney style?”
4. Blue falcon
Someone who messes things up for the whole squad or platoon, by either pulling them into their drama or throwing someone under the bus. Also called Bravo Foxtrot.
Example: “She told the First Sergeant about our plan; she’s a blue falcon.”
5. Dress right dress
A military drill command that signals a formation of recruits to look towards their squad leader and position themselves equidistant from the soldiers to their immediate left and right. It’s also used to refer to things looking consistent.
Example: “Get your uniform dress right dress for inspection.”
6. Fart sack
A military term for sleeping bag. What else would you call the thing you rarely wash and spend a third of your day in?
Example: “Get back into your fart sack and shut off that light!”
A deployed service member who never leaves the FOB (Forward Operating Base) is referred to as a “fobbit.” The moniker is derived from the J.R.R. Tolkien-coined phrase in his 1937 novel The Hobbit, about a creature that doesn’t want to leave the Shire.
Example: “He never volunteers to go outside the wire; he’s a total fobbit.”
8. Hurry up and wait
Recruits are told to hustle to a location by a certain time, then are instructed wait, sometimes for hours or days at a time.
Example: “The hurry up and wait atmosphere of rideshare driving turned me off the job for good.”
An infantry soldier or marine that doesn’t have much in the way of book smarts. He’s usually a special case (i.e., problem child).
Example: “That knuckledragger just pulled the door off its hinge; he could have just pushed.”
An abbreviation for Meal Ready to Eat, which is enough food to last a soldier a full day, tightly packaged inside a thick, brown waterproof bag. MREs are even sold online to civilians for use in survival kits.
Example: “My favorite MRE is chili mac with jalapeño cheese.”
11. Operation STEAL
In this case, STEAL stands for Strategically Take and Extradite to Alternate Location. Military personnel don’t steal things, they skillfully acquire them.
Example: “If we want that blender for margaritas later, we should commence Operation STEAL.”
12. OPSEC (Operational Security)
You may remember World War II-era propaganda posters touting the phrase: “Loose lips sink ships.” And that’s very true of covert military operations. Operational Security (OPSEC) refers to keeping locations, troop movement plans, and other information about military operations confidential. It’s what got Geraldo Rivera kicked out of Iraq in 2003.
Example: “I can’t believe you drew a map on live television; that’s OPSEC!”
13. Pop smoke
During helicopter extractions, rangers pop smoke grenades to mark their location so pilots know where to land. That’s the primary definition, but it “pop smoke” is also slang for the end of a service member’s term of service. The phrase can also refer to leaving a location in a hurry.
Example: “After eight years in the military, it’s my time to pop smoke.”
14. Roger wilco
You’ve heard pilots in movies say “roger” when responding on the radio, but what does “wilco” mean? It’s short for “will comply,” and is usually preceded by repeating the order given.
Example: “Rendezvous at rally point alpha at 0600, roger wilco.”
15. Sad sack
A World War II-era term to describe a superior who makes military life unnecessarily difficult, usually by insisting on strict adherence to rules.
Example: “Master Sergeant had me clean the grout between the tiles with my only toothbrush, what a sad sack.”
No, it’s not the fun place your kids go to build sandcastles. For military personnel, it’s a term used to describe a forward-deployed position that is located in a desert.
Example: “I got orders for a tour in the sandbox.”
A Navy term that denotes rumor or gossip. It’s derived from “scuttle,” the nautical term for the cask used to serve water.
Example: “I heard scuttlebutt that the next round is on the Lieutenant.”
18. Semper Gumby
Semper Gumby is a play on words using the United States Marine Corps Latin motto “Semper Fidelis,” which means “Always Faithful.” Referring to the animated clay character Gumby, the pun means “Always Flexible.”
Example: “They want us to turn around and camp three miles back? Semper Gumby.”
19. Sick call ranger
Someone who is in and out of the medical clinic daily is fondly dubbed a “sick call ranger,” because they go to sick call at first formation every morning, but somehow still show up for meals.
Example: “Jason’s out again, earning his sick call ranger badge.”
20. Squared away
To be “squared away” means that one has outstanding military bearing, and whatever task they are accomplishing is completed to the letter.
Example: “The table settings are squared away nicely.”
When a superior volunteers you for a task that you know is mandatory.
Example: “ I didn’t want to, but I was voluntold by my dad to mow the lawn.”
22. Weekend warrior
A term used to describe an Army National Guard soldier or Navy or Air Force Reservist. They attend the same training camps as full-time Army, Navy, and Air Force, but they are only required to serve one weekend a month and two weeks of annual training every summer, unless their unit is called up for active duty deployment.
Example: “I signed up to be a weekend warrior, but I just got orders to deploy.”
23. Watch your six
When using clock directions, one imagines their body in the center of a clock with their eyes facing the 12 and the 6 directly behind them. So “watch your six” literally means “watch your back.”
Example: “Hands on ten and two and watch your six, son.”
And for more slang terminology, check out the 150 Slang Terms From the 20th Century No One Uses Anymore.
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