“Semper Fi.” If you’ve ever been around a Marine or really anyone in the military, you’ve probably heard this phrase. Semper Fi is short for “Semper Fidelis.” It’s the motto of the United States Marine Corps and if you’re wondering about the Semper Fi meaning, it’s Latin for “always faithful.”
What is the Meaning of Semper Fi?
The meaning of Semper Fi is more than just a motto to just about any United States Marine. The phrase is proudly displayed on the United States Marine Corps seal on a ribbon held in the mouth of an eagle, which sits atop a globe and anchor.
Sure, it means “always faithful,” but the Marines take that to heart. It’s a way of life for service members in the Marine Corps, whether they’re in or out of the Corps.
When a Marine says “Semper Fi,” they truly mean they are always faithful as you can see in another common phrase among Marines, “Once a Marine, Always a Marine.” The 35th Commandant of the Marine Corps wrote the following in his Commandant’s Planning Guidance in 2010:
“A Marine is a Marine…There’s no such thing as a former Marine. You’re a Marine, just in a different uniform and you’re in a different phase of your life. But you’ll always be a Marine…” – General James F. Amos, 35th Commandant of the Marine Corps
You won’t find someone who isn’t a Marine using that term but you will find Marines, both young and old, new and experienced, using the phrase. Semper Fi means so much more than anyone can really explain. It’s a greeting but it’s also a good-bye, perhaps to a fellow fallen Marine. It might be yelled out in battle or for encouragement on the game field.
You’ll find Marines proudly wearing clothing displaying Semper Fi or you may find those who even have the motto tattooed somewhere on their body. Wherever you hear or see Semper Fi, the meaning “always faithful” holds true, and it’s a way of life for Marines. It ties them all into the brotherhood of the Marines forever.
For such a well-known motto, there must be some history behind Semper Fi, right? It’s actually a pretty simple story.
History Behind Semper Fi
“Semper Fidelis” was officially adopted as the motto of the United States Marine Corps in 1883 but it wasn’t the Marine Corps first motto. Take a look at three other mottos the Corps used at one time or another since its inception in 1775.
- Fortitudine (“with courage”)
- Per Mare, Per Terram (“by sea, by land”)
- To the Shores of Tripoli
The last motto, “To the Shores of Tripoli,” was modified to “From the halls of Montezuma to the shores of Tripoli” in 1848. It may sound familiar because it’s a line from the current Marines’ Hymn.
Colonel Charles McCawley, the 8th Commandant of the Marine Corps, chose “Semper Fidelis” as the official motto of the Marine Corps in 1883. He didn’t offer any reasoning that anyone has recorded but just pushed for it to be the motto.
Semper Fidelis, of course, is often shortened to Semper Fi, which is probably used much more often than the full term.
“Semper Fidelis” – the March
“Semper Fidelis” is also the official march of the United States Marine Corps. John Philip Sousa composed the march in 1888 when he was the leader of the United States Marine Band. A couple years prior, President Chester A. Arthur had asked Sousa to compose a march to replace “Hail to the Chief.”
Here is what Souza said about composing the march, “Semper Fidelis”:
“I wrote ‘Semper Fidelis’ one night while in tears, after my comrades of the Marine Corps had sung their famous hymn at Quantico.” – John Philip Sousa
There are many other phrases and terms associated with the United States Marine Corps. Let’s take a look at some of those.
Marine Corps Core Values
Not to be confused with the motto, Semper Fi, the Marine Corps core values are also well known. Those values, “Honor, courage, and commitment,” are just as ingrained in each Marine as their motto.
Let’s take a look at what each of those values means to a Marine:
Honor means each Marine must hold themselves to the highest ethical and moral conduct. Honor covers the basic right and wrongs such as never stealing or cheating but it also refers to a deeper moral code, a more personal one.
Marines show honor by holding themselves accountable for all their actions as well as holding other Marines accountable for their actions. Honor also means a Marine would never do anything to damage the reputation of the Marine Corps.
The Marines describe courage as honor in action and having the moral strength to do what is right despite what others may be thinking or doing. Courage also refers to a Marine’s willingness to take a stand for what is right regardless of the consequences.
Commitment to a Marine is total dedication to both the Marine Corps and the United States of America. The Corps describes commitment as selfless determination and a relentless dedication to excellence.
The phrase discussed above, “Once a Marine, Always a Marine,” is seen in the level of commitment among Marines regardless of their place in life.
Other Common Marine Terms
While “Semper Fi” is the official motto of the United States Marine Corps and the phrase probably most associated with the Marines, there are a few other terms you’ll hear fairly regularly if you’re a Marine in addition to the core values.
Here are some of those terms:
- Semper Gumby
- Improvise, adapt, and overcome
- Semper I
So, what exactly do these terms mean? Well, their meaning is not quite as clear-cut as Semper Fi but let’s take a look anyways.
“Rah!” is short for “Oohrah,” which is used as a greeting or expression of enthusiasm. The Army and Navy have their own versions of this expression, with the Army using “Hooah” and the Navy using “Hooyah.”
While generally used as a greeting, this term can be used more simply as “Rah” as in agreeing with something or also to ask if someone understands something when presented as a question, “Rah?”
“Yut” is used in place of “Oohrah,” generally by junior Marines. It is used to express enthusiasm or as approval during motivational speeches.
If you didn’t catch it yet, “Semper Gumby” is a play on the Marine motto, “Semper Fidelis.” While “Semper Fidelis” means “always faithful,” “Semper Gumby” fittingly means “always flexible.”
It’s used when you’re told to do one thing, then a different thing, then something else, and then back to the original thing. It can basically be used anytime you’re required to be flexible, which anyone in the military knows is a common requirement.
Improvise, Adapt, and Overcome
This phrase means exactly what it says. The United States Marine Corps is a smaller branch of the service and receives less funding than some of the other branches. Because of this, Marines generally try to have an attitude of doing more with less, which results in “Improvise, Adapt, and Overcome.”
“Semper I” is once again a play on the official motto of “Semper Fi.” While Semper Fi represents teamwork and esprit de corps, “Semper I” is used when a Marine goes off and does something on their own without thinking of others. It’s the opposite of the attitude the United States Marine Corps wants every Marine to display.
So, as you can see, the Marines have many phrases they use regularly. Among these, though, “Semper Fi” is the one that truly encompasses the mentality of the United States Marine Corps. The meaning “Always Faithful” is something every Marine holds dear, whether brand new to the service or from a generation long ago.