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Understanding Complex Military Lingo

Hundreds of acronyms, initialisms and expressions are embedded in the language spoken in the military, and all three verbalizations serve a specific purpose.


The “FYI” on Acronyms

To begin, acronyms are pronounceable words created from the initials of a group of words to make informal communication simpler and quicker.

For example, the Navy’s elite Sea, Air and Land forces are commonly referred to as SEALS.  This acronym is a lot easier to say than “Sea, Air and Land” and makes the speaker’s intent clear.

Another example which comes to mind is when an operation or plan is referred to as FUBAR.  This acronym is a much more acceptable way of acknowledging that a situation is “F***ed Up Beyond All Recognition.”

Some common military acronyms are listed here:

  • KISS (Keep It Simple Stupid)
  • DFAC (Dining Facility)
  • AWOL (Absent Without Official Leave)
  • DEERS (Defense Enrollment Eligibility Reporting System)
  • DEFCON (Defense Readiness Condition)
  • TOC (Tactical Operations Center)
  • FOB (Forward Operating Base)
  • ASVAB (Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery)
  • OPORD (Operation Order)

Each of these acronyms – and there are literally hundreds more of them – are spoken daily on bases around the world.


Initialisms: what are they?

Moving on, initialisms are very much like acronyms; however, unlike acronyms they are unpronounceable.   

For instance, IED is an initialism created from the words “improvised explosive device;” the first letters of the three words creates a new “word” that cannot be pronounced.

Another illustration is MIA, an initialism formed from the words “Missing in Action;” yet it is not a word that can be used in a sensible way.

Not surprisingly, there are just as many initialisms used in the military as there are acronyms.

A few of the initialisms in the military are as follows:

  • AIT (Advanced Individual Training)
  • NCO (Noncommissioned Officer)
  • AOR (Area of Operations)
  • UXO (Unexploded Ordnance)
  • UAB (Unaccompanied Baggage)
  • XO (Executive Officer)
  • BCT (Basic Combat Training)
  • TCP (Traffic Control Point)

In each case the speaker’s intent is clear.


Expressions & Phrases

While acronyms and initialisms simplify communications, expressions (or phrases) also play a key role.

They are descriptive of individuals or things unique to the service but not necessarily understood by civilians.

A good representative of this is when a service member is asked if he would like to workout at the gym rather than head for home.

His response may be, “Sure.  But I want to check with Household 6.”  Since the number 6 refers to a commander, the service member is joking that he wants to let his spouse know his whereabouts.

Or there is the Good Idea Fairy.  This expression describes the military member who comes up with ideas that lead to extra work.

Some of the expressions used in the military are as follows:

  • Cover (hat)
  • Boot (new military member)
  • Civvies (civilian clothing)
  • Roger (yes)
  • Bird (any aircraft)
  • Zero Dark Thirty (very early morning)
  • Aye, Aye (heard and understood)
  • Drive on (keep doing what you’re doing)
  • Hooah/Oorah (exclamation used to express acknowledgement in the Army and Marines, respectively)
  • Battle Rattle (combat gear)

Language evolves, and the military’s use of acronyms, initialisms and expressions are no exception.

Find more military lingo here


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