Language lessons across the USA and Canada

Call us! 1-877-566-9299 / 1-416-800-9242

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

"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.

The use of slang in the military 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 historic wars that the United States has been engaged in has evolved the slang, or jargon, that its armies use in order to suit the needs of the times.

Forms of military slang either become obsolete, or have been adapted and transformed. Vietnam era slang has a whole different list of jungle-oriented sayings that do not transfer over to Gulf War jargon. One of the slang terms which has stayed the same over the years, is the American Armed Forces’ unofficial names for each other.

The U.S. Navy is perpetually stuck with the degrading term of ‘Squids’ by their rival compadre U.S. forces. The Marine Corps  has been forever known as ‘Jar Heads’ to the other three services. The U.S. Army is perpetually known as ‘Beatle Heads’; because of their constant use of bug shaped helmets, and the Air Force seems to be privileged with the much less derogatory and somewhat glamorous sounding ‘Fly Boys’.

In The Navy…

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

A-gang is usedon 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 ships efficiency and safety.

Bird barn is the term used for a U.S aircraft carrier.

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.

Head is a term that is used in both the Navy and the Marines for the bathroom.

And The Army Goes Rolling Along…

Bloods and Crips, also 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 is a Gulf War term used to describe a hole that is dug in the ground/sand, in which to poop in.

Chicken plates are a somewhat bravado term for the Small Arms Protective Inserts (SAPI), that are used in the soldiers body armor.

Command Private Major is contemptuous slang for the rank of a Specialist E-4.

DA Form 1 is Army lingo for Toilet Paper.

Get To Stomping In My Air Force Ones…

Army proof means that the Air Force has planned ahead for any and all screw ups by the U.S. Armyin joint operations.

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, is pronounced “Gaggle-Harch,” and is used to describe a formation of Airmen who are marching out of step.

IYAAYAS – stands for“If You Ain’t Ammo, You Ain’t Sh!t.

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

Call A Marine…

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

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

782 Gear is assorted equipment that is carried by Marine is training missions, or deployment to combat.

Bird, Ball and Chain is a cynical type expression that is used to describe the Marine Corps’ Eagle, Globe and Anchor emblem.

Alpha Unit this is the slang  nickname used for a Marine’s spouse.

Common slang used in all U.S Forces:

Hoorah is a spirited Navy and Marine exclamation outburst, which is the equivalent of the U.S. Army’s “Hooah.”

As you were is a universal permission to continue on with what you were doing, when an officer enters a room, or someone of higher rank and authority is done giving out group instructions or announcements.

K.I.A is an unfortunate term that is used when a service member is Killed in Action.

Blanket parties are also something no one in the military wants to receive. It is an often violent and unauthorized attitude adjustment that is given to a soldier, sailor, or marine, to unpopular service members who for some reason or another, refuse to conform, or simply do not have the proper abilities to live up to the rest of the group’s capabilities. These “Parties” are very unpleasant for the recipient of this practice, and still very much in use in the U.S. Military.

Snipe Hunts are just as legendary, and as ongoing as the U.S. Military itself. New recruits are commonly sent off on malicious quests, to find a vital piece of equipment that does not exist, while the newbie foolishly is asking all those along the way, where they can find the non-existent item: Keys to Aircraft 300(a military aircraft does not have any keys) is the prevailing U.S Navy’s and Air Force’s version of the prank, along with asking for fog samples at sea. Sky hooks for vehicle repairs, and frequency grease for radios, are also very popular and humiliating larks to play on new recruits in the Army and Marines.


Slang is a universal linguistic habit, regardless of where people are located in the world, or what group, profession, or society they belong to. Slang has also been around for as long as people have had languages to speak. When traveling, knowing a region’s adapted variation of their spoken language can come in very handy, and can also clear up some uncomfortable and mutual cultural misunderstandings.

The awkwardness of not knowing the proper linguistic term in a given situation can be averted by visiting the Listen & Learn website in order to find out more about different versions of languages in global workplaces, associations, and societies. Contact Us for more information about language courses available to you, which are conveniently located in your area.