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Hoorahs and Cat Holes: Military Slang in the U.S. Armed Forces

The use of military slang has been an ongoing tradition for troops worldwide. It is seemingly almost as vital to the military’s communications as its radios and messengers. The many historical wars that the United States has taken part in have evolved the slang, or jargon, that its armies use to suit the needs of the times.

In this blog, we’ll explore essential military slang you should know, whether you want to join the U.S., armed forces or uou’re just linguistically curious!

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Basic Military Slang: Inter-Branch Nicknames


The U.S. Navy is perpetually stuck with the degrading term ‘Squids’ by their rival compadre U.S. forces. This term, often used in a teasing manner, highlights the playful rivalry between the branches.

Jar Heads

The Marine Corps has been forever known as ‘Jar Heads’ to the other three services. This nickname, referring to the distinctive Marine haircut, is another example of the camaraderie and friendly banter that exists within the military.

Beatle Heads

The U.S. Army is perpetually known as ‘Beatle Heads’ because of their constant use of bug-shaped helmets. This term, although slightly mocking, is part of the tradition of inter-service teasing.

Fly Boys

The Air Force seems to be privileged with the much less derogatory and somewhat glamorous-sounding ‘Fly Boys’. This term reflects the admiration and slight envy from other branches towards the Air Force’s elite aviators

"Marine Corps Platoon" by Corporal Justin J. Shemanski, USMC - Transferred from en.wikipedia; transfer was stated to be made by User:KTo288.. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons.

Marine Corps Platoon” by Corporal Justin J. Shemanski, USMC – Transferred from en.wikipedia; transfer was stated to be made by User:KTo288.. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons.


99 is the term used in the Navy to designate something as “All hands” (everyone) and is usually used on Aircraft Carriers to alert all those concerned of technical failures on deck that might endanger other sailors and airmen.


A-gang is used on board a ship or submarine to describe those responsible for sanitary, heating/air conditioning, emergency diesels, hydraulics, and assorted systems. So if your A-gang is on top of it, that is a good thing, especially when all those facilities are vital to a ship’s efficiency and safety.

Bug Company

Bug Company is a demeaning term for a company unit (group of two or more platoons) of total screw-ups in Boot Camp.


Deck-Ape is also not such a flattering term used to describe the members in charge of the ship’s anchors and mooring lines that need to be brought up and down accordingly.

In both the Navy and the Marine Corps, the term “head” is widely used to refer to the bathroom. This military term for bathroom has its origins in the early days of sailing. On sailing ships, the toilet area for the crew was typically located at the front, or “head,” of the ship. This was because the wind would blow from the rear of the ship towards the front, carrying away unpleasant odors.

Army Slang: Terms from the Ground Forces

Bloods and Crips

Bloods and Crips is a derogatory and somewhat modern term that is used by Army troops to describe soldiers who are constantly going to the infirmary for medical attention, usually to get out of some unwanted duty or exercise for the day. Also known as the Sick, Lame, and Lazy, and Sick Call Rangers.

Cat hole

A cat hole is a Gulf War term for a small hole dug in the ground or sand used as a makeshift toilet. This practical solution is essential for maintaining hygiene in the field when standard facilities are unavailable, highlighting the resourcefulness of soldiers in combat zones.

Chicken Plates

Chicken plates refer to Small Arms Protective Inserts (SAPI) used in soldiers’ body armor. These inserts provide crucial protection against bullets and shrapnel, with the term reflecting the soldiers’ humor and the importance of these protective plates.

Command Private Major

Command Private Major is a sarcastic term for a Specialist E-4 who acts beyond their rank. This nickname mocks those who overstep their authority, reflecting the hierarchical nature of military life and the use of humor to cope with its stresses.

DA Form 1

DA Form 1 is Army slang for toilet paper, poking fun at the abundance of forms and paperwork in military life. This term uses humor to express soldiers’ frustration with bureaucratic processes.

Air Force Slang: Military Terms from the Skies

Army proof

The expression “Army proof” means that the Air Force has planned ahead for any and all screw-ups by the U.S. Army in joint operations.

Blues buddies

Blues buddies is the Air Force slang for a pair of Airmen who spend way too much time together when going out on leave during formal training assignments in their Dress Blues.


Gaggle-march, pronounced “Gaggle-Harch,” describes a disorganized formation of Airmen marching out of step. This term humorously highlights the lack of coordination in the group, resembling a gaggle of geese rather than a disciplined military unit.


IYAAYAS stands for “If You Ain’t Ammo, You Ain’t Sh!t.” This acronym is a point of pride among Air Force munitions specialists, signifying their critical role in handling and maintaining ammunition.

Operation Golden Flow

Operation Golden Flow is when Airmen get called into a superior’s office on false pretenses and are hit with a surprise drug urinalysis.

Marine Corps Slang: Terms from the Corps


Go-fasters are the slang term used for athletic shoes, otherwise known as “tennis” shoes.

Blood stripes

Blood stripes refer to when the marines’ newly promoted metal rank emblems, worn on a recruit’s shirt lapel, are driven into the soldier’s shoulders by the pointy spike fasteners on the bottom of the metal rank designation.

782 Gear

782 Gear refers to the standard issue equipment carried by Marines during training missions or combat deployments. This assortment includes essential items such as weapons, ammunition, first aid kits, and survival gear. The term “782” comes from the form number used to sign out this equipment.

Bird, Ball, and Chain

Bird, Ball, and Chain is a cynical expression used to describe the Marine Corps’ Eagle, Globe, and Anchor emblem. This emblem symbolizes the Marine Corps’ values and traditions. However, the nickname reflects the mixed feelings Marines might have about the heavy responsibilities and demanding nature of their service, akin to being “chained” to duty.

Alpha Unit

Alpha Unit is the slang nickname used for a Marine’s spouse. This term acknowledges the crucial support role that spouses play, often managing family life and providing emotional support while their partners are deployed or on duty.

Common Military Slang: Your Questions Answered

What does “As you were” mean in military terms?

“As you were” is a universal military phrase that grants permission to continue what you were doing before an officer entered the room or after someone of higher rank has finished giving instructions or announcements. It is used to indicate that the current activity can resume.

What does K.I.A stand for in the military?

K.I.A stands for “Killed in Action.” It is a term used to denote a service member who has died during combat or military operations. This designation is used to honor the fallen and inform their families and units of their sacrifice.

What are blanket parties in the military?

Blanket parties are unauthorized and often violent acts of group discipline directed at an unpopular service member who does not conform to the group’s standards or abilities. These “parties” involve covering the target with a blanket and physically assaulting them. Despite being unofficial and condemned by military regulations, they still occur within the U.S. Military.

What are snipe hunts in the military?

Snipe hunts are practical jokes played on new recruits, sending them on futile quests for nonexistent items. Common examples include asking for “keys to Aircraft 300” (aircraft don’t have keys) or “sky hooks” for vehicle repairs. These pranks are meant to humorously highlight the recruit’s inexperience and initiate them into military culture.

What does the Army call the bathroom?

In the Army, the bathroom is commonly referred to as the “latrine.” This term is used across various military branches to denote restroom facilities, both in field environments and permanent installations.

What is the difference between materiel and material?

“Materiel” refers specifically to military equipment and supplies. It encompasses everything needed to support military operations, such as weapons, ammunition, and vehicles. “Material,” on the other hand, is a broader term that includes any physical substance or resources used in various contexts, not limited to the military.


Military slang is a fascinating and essential aspect of military culture, reflecting the unique experiences and camaraderie among service members. These terms provide insight into the daily lives and humor of those who serve. They help us bridge communication gaps and fostering a sense of unity.

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