Military personnel are a culture within a culture, in the sense that one is not simply born into an all-volunteer military, but instead comes from the civilian populace- leaving the civilian world behind.
As with any individual culture, the military has its own language of sorts, ranging from acronyms to abbreviations and nomenclature. In addition to such jargon, the culture of those who serve is also steeped with unique sayings and phrases that can often only be heard in the company of those who wear (or wore) the uniform.
While -much like any language- this exclusive lingua militare evolves over time, some sayings are pretty timeless and endure for generations. Here are some of the ones with stupidly obvious meanings:
“Tracers Work Both Ways”
For those not “in the know,” a “tracer” is an incendiary-type bullet or shell that is designed to assist the shooter in knowing where exactly his rounds are going. Frequently used with automatic weapons and cannons, the tracer’s ability to show you where your shots are landing comes with an unfortunate side-effect: your enemy knows where you are, as well.
The phrase can also be used to express the dangers of casting blame, slandering someone or starting drama. What goes out is always more than capable of coming in.
“Fifteen Minutes Prior (To Fifteen Minutes Prior)”
In the military, being on time is essential. Many soldiers frequently set their watches fifteen minutes fast in order to subconsciously move things alone and adapt to an ever-steady demand for individuals to be early for events, be it morning formation or an appointment.
Unfortunately, just as commands roll down hill, so does the need to be earlier than everyone else. By the time one individual in the chain of command has been informed to be fifteen minutes early, the poor fellow at the end of that chain may end up being several hours early as a result of each superior demanding his immediate group be early.
The phrase can also be used to describe a sense of redundancy.
“Front Towards Enemy”
Featured on the front of M18 Claymore anti-personnel mines, the phrase is a rather well-liked example of the military “idiot-proofing” itself in order to prevent a lot of paperwork and headache. The phrase can also be used to encourage organizing one’s priorities or to demean an individual who would seemingly make a deadly mistake if things weren’t labeled.
“When The Pin Is Pulled, Mr. Grenade Is Not Your Friend”
Of course, this is a reference to the way in which a grenade becomes a dangerous object once the safety pin is pulled. With a delayed fuse, the thrower only has so much time to “re-gift” his grenade before he becomes a casualty of it.
The phrase can also reference an individual’s obligation to back up/ commit to a statement or action after they have already said or done something.
“Friendly fire- Isn’t”
Accidents happen in the fog of war, and despite being called “friendly fire,” fratricide is anything but cordial.
“If You Take More Than Your Fair Share of Objectives, You Will Get More Than Your Fair Share of Objectives To Take”
If one overperforms in their duties, they will eventually be given exponentially more additional duties until they are overwhelmed of have failed. Usually, this advice is given to those who are too motivated.
“Never Run When You Can Walk. Never Walk When You Can Stand. Never Stand When You Can Sit. Never Sit When You Can Lay Down. Never Lay Down When You Can Sleep.”
Luxury is fleeting for the combat soldier on the go, so any improvement in conditions is never to be taken for granted. “Smoke ‘em while you got ‘em,” is a similar phrase, and both implore an individual to take pleasure in what little pleasures they have, lest they regret squandering them when they are thrust into the fray of discomfort later on. The phrase has several variations, but all stem from Winston Churchill’s “Never stand up when you can sit down, and never sit down when you can lie down.”
“If It’s Going Well, It’s Probably An Ambush”
A play on Murphy’s Law (the principle, not the Army Times comic strip), this phrase applies to the idea that “anything that can go wrong will go wrong,” and ultimately rains on the parade of those who think the relative easiness of a situation is an assured victory.
“Standby to Standby/ Hurry Up and Wait”
Last -but most certainly not least- on the list are two classics, which are so closely related that they deserved to be put together.
For all the cool stuff the military does, there is an awful lot of sitting around waiting for cool stuff to happen. Oftentimes, things get mixed up, people don’t show up on time, things don’t work out as planned and someone is left standing out in the cold waiting for everything to fall into place. With an emphasis on being early (and being early to being early), there is often a lot of urgency to arrive somewhere, simply to stand around and wait for more stuff to happen….Eventually.
Military language has always been colorful- so much in fact that it often bleeds into the civilian lexicon, much in the same way we use phrases from past wars in everyday speech. What modern military sayings do you think will become common in the future?
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