Phrases only people who have served in the military understand

Second Lt. Brendan Crane, platoon leader for 1st Platoon, Company A, 626th Brigade Support Battalion, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault), gives his platoon a pep talk before going out on a combat logistics patrol to Patrol Base Dragon, Nov. 20.2007

Sometimes hanging out with members of the military can feel like you are hanging out with people from another country.  These bands of “brothers” and “sisters” share a language that leaves many in the civilian world wondering what the heck they are talking about.  As anyone can tell you, the practice of creating unique phrases have long been part of establishing strong ties.

Business Insider recently wrote an article with several of phrases that only people in the military would understand, including the meanings behind the expressions.

A popular phrase often heard is “15 minutes prior to 15 minutes prior”.  Military members are taught early on that punctuality is expected of them and depending on how they rank determines how early they are expected to show up.  For example, if a captain wants everyone to meet at 0600, then master sergeant wants everyone to arrive at 0545 and so forth.

Before military-style eyeglass frames were the “in” thing, they were often referred to as “Birth Control Glasses.”  They were called this because they were considered so ugly they could be used as a type of contraceptive.

Another commonly heard expression used amongst troops is “Civvies.”  When off-duty and out of military clothes, members are dressed in normal civilian clothes.  If the high and tight haircut didn’t give it away, you might not even know they are in the military when they are in their “civvies.”

When referring to unattended items being taken, the phrase used is “Gear adrift, is a Gift.”  Basically it is your own fault you left something laying around and unsecured.  Of course larceny is not condoned under the Uniform Code of Military Justice but if gone uncaught, it is considered “tactically acquired.”

When speaking of a top official or someone in a classified position, the term “Secret Squirrel” is used.  It is used when referencing intelligence personnel and secret communications as well.

Not all phrases are difficult for a civilian to decipher.  Take “Smoking and Joking” as an example.  It literally means smoking and joking.  It is used when telling another that you are just horsing around, not doing much.

Instead of saying there is a big boss hidden amongst the group, an easy way to identify an officer to the enemy is giving him a salute.  The move is often called a “Sniper Check.”  Salutes to officers are typically prohibited in the field as to keep enemies from targeting them.

Loosely used, “Zero Dark Thirty” means really early but it really refers to 0030 or 12:30 a.m. in the military 24-hour time clock.  A spin-off of this expression is “Zero Stupid Thirty”, which means needlessly early.

An expression heard occasionally in the movies is “Make a Hole.”  It is a nice way of telling a bunch of people to get out of your way and move before they get moved.  If your in the Army and say this, a senior NCO may correct you and say “make way”….”a hole is for a dead man.”

These are only a few of the many phrases used in the military world.  Each branch’s lingo and terminology may slightly differ but what is the same is that they all converse in a language that is their own.


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