A Crash Course in Military Jargon

Soldier holding machine gun with national flag

Have you ever been watching a military movie and the characters start spitting out strange jargon that no one except military people would ever understand? If so, here is a crash course in what the heck those guys are talking about. Before we get too far into this, let me be clear that jargon is exactly that, jargon. The meaning of these terms can change from unit to unit and most of these phrases are not official or set in stone. Most of the terms used here, I pulled from my own military service in the Air Force. If your unit does or did it differently, feel free to comment below and let us know how your branch uses your own special version of the English language.

Hooah, Hooya, Oorah, Hoorah: Okay, every branch does this a little different. These are the battle cries of the different services. Hooah is usually the Army, but the Air Force sort of borrowed it since they often work with the Army. I’ve had some Navy guys tell me that they use Hooya, but it is unclear if that was just their unit or if that is Navy-wide. The Marines use Oorah, and we let them do so.

Wing Nut: In an Air Force unit, there is usually one guy who is, shall we say, slower than everyone else. Maybe he doesn’t have his equipment ready or his uniform looks awful. Perhaps he just doesn’t know what is going on all the time. Wing Nut is a conglomeration of two words, a Wing is a level on the Air Force Structure, a squadron is smaller than a wing, a flight is smaller than a squadron, and so on. The term “nut” is self-explanatory I think. Every Wing I’ve served with seems to have a Wing Nut. If you don’t know who the Wing Nut is, it’s probably you.

A military exercise in action.

While hanging out with the Army, I learned a few important lessons. Apparently, a backpack is a rucksack, duct tape is 100-mph tape, and a gun is a weapon, not a gun. I also learned that some Army folks will do things the hard way, just because it is the hard way.

Rank and File: When it comes to rank, obviously every branch is a little different. In the Army and Air Force, enlisted personnel often refer to a 2nd Lieutenant as “butter bars,” although rarely to their face. Troops derived this term from their rank insignia resembling two sticks of rich creamery butter. A little higher up in the food chain, Colonels have a nickname for both ranks of Colonel. Service members often refer to Lieutenant Colonels as “Light Colonels” due to the acronym “Lt. Col.” Troops nicknamed Colonels as “Full Bird Colonels” due to their rank insignia depicting an eagle. Obviously, service members do this in an unofficial capacity, as any troop who would refer to a higher ranking officer by anything but his name and rank, or sir, would quickly find himself in a world of hurt.

Military to Civilian: Some military phrases have bled into everyday civilian life as well. The term “the whole nine yards” arguably came from WWII era belt fed machine guns. When a soldier emptied out his weapon on the enemy, he was giving them “the whole nine yards.” The term “balls to the wall” originated in military aviation. In many planes, designers fitted control sticks with a ball-shaped grip. One such control is the throttle. To get maximum power you push it all the way forward, to the front of the cockpit, or firewall (so-called because it prevents an engine fire from reaching the rest of the plane). Another control is the joystick—pushing it forward sends a plane into a dive. Therefore, literally pushing the balls to the (fire) wall would put a plane into a maximum-speed dive, and figuratively going balls to the wall is doing something all-out, with maximum effort. The phrase is essentially the aeronautical equivalent of the automotive “pedal to the metal.” There are literally hundreds of military jargon phrases that cross over into the civilian world. Hopefully, if you find yourself chatting with some veterans or sitting in the next Hollywood military movie, you won’t feel quite so FUBAR.

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Comments (5)

  1. All the branches of th US Military “often work” with each other, so that’s probably not why the Air Force uses the Army slogan “Hooah.” It’s probably because the US Air Force was originally a branch of the US Army known as the US Air Corps. It was seperated from the US Army to become an independant military branch (US Air Force) after World War 2.

  2. Im a smaller ring kind of girl. Plus, I harm myself with my rings repeatedly. I used to wear a marquee cut diamond and managed to scratch my face pretty badly by using it. I scraped the kids with it repeatedly, too. The wedding ring husband gifted me for our Birthday was picked because of its settings being much less dangerous.

  3. CTD Rob,

    No offense but you are wrong about the Marine battle cry. Take it from this old DevilDog, its Ooorraaahhh! Depending on the plt (platoon for those of you not hip to the lingo), it is shortend down to just a bark (Devil Dogs…). Go ahead and check out Sgt Grit for the bumper sticker that says “Ooorraaahhh! Its a Marine thing, you won’t understand”

    Semper Fi

    1. Absolutely correct on the Marines cry, Joe. My best friend is a Marine and my boyfriend is an Army sergeant.

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