Military slang, terms and nicknames


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I’ve been a trusted companion for dozens of veterans from all branches of the military, as well as eras.  They appreciate being a part of a team and the opportunity to share familiar lingo and physical routine.  Experiencing the loss of language can be unbearable, especially when others struggle to make sense of what one is trying to say.  Knowing some of the terms the veterans are still familiar with might help us connect with a part of their life they honor.

Among the ‘Shellbacks’ in my company, there was an Air-Dale, Band-Aid, Bubble-head, Load-toad, Ground-pounder, Puddle-pirate and a Rotor-head.


Air-dale – pilot or aircrew.

Band-Aid – A Vietnam-era term for a medic.

Bubble- head Crew member on a submarine, Submariner

Ground-pounder Opposite of ‘air-dales’ for Army or Marines.

Gunny – Gunnery Sergeant in the Marines.

Load Toad – Those who load ordinance onto the aircraft.

Padre –  Chaplain.  Madre –  Female chaplain.

Puddle Pirate – Member of the Coast Guard.

Rotor head – Slang for a helicopter pilot.

Shellback – A ceremony for sailors who cross the Equator for the first time.


At ease Relax

Auto-pilot  without commander

Big Voice The loudspeaker on a military base.

Bones Any military doctor, especially in the Navy. Doc A medic.

Bought the farm fatal crash

Bug Juice powdered drink

Chest Candy Ribbons or medals that are worn

Chow Food

Cover Military headgear of any type

Crumb Catcher Military slang describing the mouth

Drink (RAF) sea/ocean

Frosty Stay alert and watchful

Fruit salad The colorful collection of ribbons worn on the breast of a dress uniform.

Gedunk Refers to snack foods

Goat rope A waste of time or foolish activity

Check six ‘Watch out behind you’ based on looking for 6 o’clock;  Got One’s 6 ‘got one’s back’

Hatch A door

Head Bathroom facilities; Army term “latrine”; cat hole (U.S. Army) A hole dug in the ground in which to defecate.

Ink Stick Marine Corps term for a pen

Mustang A nickname for an officer promoted from the enlisted ranks.

Nut to Butt The instruction used to tell Soldiers to line up in tight order.

Punch out To eject from an aircraft.

Rack Bed

Rear-D Rear Detachment, the part of a unit that stays home when the unit is deployed.

Rent-A-Crowd A crowd that attends an optional function only because they were ordered to.

Ricky Recruit  A new Sailor that exemplifies the “perfect Sailor” by never messing up, always following orders, etc.

Rounds Complete Finished

Sad Sack WWII-era term used to describe an individual who makes life unnecessarily difficult.

Sandbagging Soldier who is performing his duties inefficiently or with laziness.

Screw the pooch (U.S. Military and civilian) To badly mess up.

Sea lawyer (U.S. Navy, U.S. Coast Guard, RN) A Sailor, probably too smart for his own good, who thinks he knows all of the regulations and quotes them to get out of either work or trouble.

Sick-bay commando (U.S.) A service member found often in sickbay (a hospital or infirmary) usually in lieu of difficult work or PT.

Shower-shoes Rubber sandals, flip-flops issued to prevent infections from the use of shared showers.

Shut up and Color Telling someone to quit complaining.

Snot locker Nose

Spook (U.S., U.K.) A spy

Steel beach picnic (U.S. Navy) A party-like event held on a ship that is intended to let Sailors let off steam. Usually includes grilling food, games, music, etc.

Squared away cleaned up; in military shape; ready for inspection.

Volun-told An optional event, assignment, or activity in which a person is required to attend

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