Pucker Factor: Getting to Know Military Lingo

Before you enlist in the military, or even if you’re already a soldier, there’s a lot of jargon to get a handle on. From rankings to banter, you’ll catch on quickly, but there’s always room for a little help wrapping your brain around all these terms.

What Does “Pucker Factor” Mean?

Pucker factor is a term used to measure fear, stress, or heightened adrenaline in dangerous situations. “Pucker” refers to the tightening of your sphincter that naturally occurs when a person feels scared or panicked. While it’s not a term that is exclusively used in the military, it’s still considered a military term – probably due to the sheer amount of crisis situations that soldiers can find themselves in.

So, someone with a pucker factor of 1 (or PF1) might come across as cold, heartless, and robotic since they don’t seem to be shaken by even the most dangerous close calls. On the contrary, a pucker factor of 10 could cause a person to freeze out of fear, unable to make an appropriate or effective decision. Apparently, it’s best to fall somewhere in between.

Pucker Factor in Action

It might be easier to explain this phrase by using some examples of when one might refer to someone’s pucker factor. We’ll start off slow and then move on to the heavier stuff.

Much of the time, it’s all about the banter. If you’re trying to liven up the taste of your food on deployment, your buddy might say, “That hot sauce on my MRE gave me a PF6!” Or perhaps your commander is really high strung. Someone might joke, “Talk about a strong pucker factor…”

A far more extreme example is the unfortunate case of Captain Will Rogers, who, in 1988, fired a missile at an unknown aircraft after waiting until the last minute, presumably due to stress. Turns out, it was a commercial flight and 290 civilians died as a result. Of course, hindsight is 20/20 and his moments of hesitation could be noted as a high pucker factor – freezing to the point of being unable to think clearly. But in combat situations, unclear circumstances are a cause for grief, not guilt.

People experience the pucker factor all the time. That feeling you get before your first ride on a roller coaster. Gliding off the ski lift as you get your first glimpse of the mountain you’re about to descend upon. Sending your child off to college. Going off to war.

It might be a funny-sounding piece of military lingo about tightening your butt in moments of fear, but we all know the feeling. Whether you’re totally calm, cool, and collected to the point where people question if you’re even real, or you’ve been given the nickname “tight ass” with a level 10 pucker factor, it’s good to know where you fall on the spectrum.

After all, learning that you’re willing and capable to take on the amount of stress that comes with the military is an empowering lesson. So, what’s your pucker factor?

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