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Leatherneck - Magazine of the Marines

Leatherneck Lingo

"The Thin Line of Tradition"

The traditions of the Marine Corps, its history, its flags, its uniforms, its insignia—the Marine Corps way of doing things—make the Corps what it is [and set it distinctively apart from other military organizations and services].

These traditions give the Marine Corps its flavor, and are the reason why the Corps cherishes its past, its ways of acting and speaking, and its uniforms. These things foster the discipline, valor, loyalty, aggressiveness, and readiness, which make the term " 'Marine' … signify all that is highest in military efficiency and soldierly virtue."

One writer on Marine traditions nailed down their importance in [the following] words: "As our traditions, our institutions, and even our eccentricities—like live coral—develop and toughen, so the Corps itself develops and toughens."

And remember: whenever the Marine Corps is impoverished by the death of a tradition, you are generally to blame. Traditions are not preserved by books and museums, but by faithful adherence on the part of all hands—you especially.

"The Marine Corps Officer's Guide," 1964 edition

We are sure you have more leatherneck lingo to add to what is listed here or a definition that you think improves on one already listed. By all means send them to us with your sources. If we use the information, we will give you credit next to the definition(s).

Numerals A  B  C  D  E  F  G  H  I  J  K  L  M  N  O  P  Q  R  S  T  U  V  W  X  Y  Z

6-by: A rugged truck equipped with six-wheel drive.

180: One-hundred-eighty degrees on a compass. To do an about face: to change to the opposite one's point of view.

360: Complete circle on a compass. To put protection (360) all around.

782 or deuce gear: Standard issue web, combat gear, field equipment. Named after standard Marine Corps Form 782, which Marines signed when they took custody of and responsibility for their equipment.

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above my pay grade: A reply: "Don't ask me; it is beyond what I'm paid to know."

acting jack: Assistant drill instructor at a recruit depot or an acting corporal.

ahoy: This is an old traditional nautical greeting and also is used for hailing other boats. It was originally a Viking battle cry.

Air Force salute: To say, "I don't know" by a shrug.

all hands: Entire ship's company or unit personnel, including officers and enlisted personnel.

APC: A large, white tablet issued for minor discomfort that is commonly, albeit mistakenly, called an "all-purpose capsule." Former Sergeant, now Dr. H. J. Lewis of Zanesville, Ohio, explained in the January 2002 issue of Leatherneck that APC "was named after its ingredients: aspirin, phenacetin and caffeine."

ashore: On the beach, as differentiated from on board ship. Any place off a Marine Corps or government reservation. Go ashore, go on liberty or leave the reservation.

Asiatic: Mildly deranged or eccentric as a result of too much foreign duty, or one who has missed too many boats.

ate up: Describing one who has no clue about what's going on. One who is always lazy, in disarray and unsatisfactory.

aye-aye: A nautical term. When an officer or enlisted Marine receives orders of instruction, the Marine replies, "Aye-aye, sir," meaning: "Yes, I understand the orders I have received and will carry them out." Never permit a subordinate to acknowledge an order by "very well," "all right," "yes" or "OK." "Aye" said by itself means one agrees. Aye-aye is generally supposed to be a corruption of the words yea, yea. The claim is advanced that Cockney (true Londoners born within the sound of the bells of St. Mary Le Bow (Bow Bells), Cheapside, in the city of London) accents changed the Yea to Yi, and from there it was a simple transition to aye.

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battle pin: Tie clasp or tie tack.

battle zero or BZ: To determine by trial and error the sight setting required to hit with an individual weapon at a given range; synonymous with "zero in." The sight setting required to obtain a hit with a rifle at a given range.

beans, bullets and bandages: Everything Marines need to fight.

belay: To cancel an order, to stop, to firmly secure a line.

below: Down the ladder well. Below decks.

binnacle list: Sick list. List of men excused from duty. In the old days it was posted on or near the binnacle, which is a large stand used to house a magnetic compass and fitting.

blouse: Military dress coat or jacket. To blouse one's boots with boot bands.

BLT: Not a sandwich but a battalion landing team, which can be the ground combat element of a MEU.

boondocks: Woods or wilds, far-away spaces or that portion of the country which is fit only for the training of Marines. Possibly from the Tagalog "bundok" or mountain jungles of the Philippines.

boondockers: Boots.

boondoggle: Any trip on government time that serves no purpose other than to entertain the Marine making it.

boot: Recruit. Or to be junior to another Marine, such as, "He's boot to me."

boot bands: Also known as blousing bands. Marines roll the legs of the utility trouser under boot bands and blouse them over the top of their boots. They never tuck their trousers in.

Staff Sergeant Jason Jenks, a senior drill instructor, makes leathernecks at the Corps' West Coast boot camp, MCRD, San Diego. (Photo by LCpl Jess Levens)
Staff Sergeant Jason Jenks, a senior drill instructor, makes leathernecks at the Corps' West Coast boot camp, MCRD, San Diego. (Photo by LCpl Jess Levens)

boot camp: Recruit training for enlisted Marines at Marine Corps Recruit Depots, Parris Island, S.C., and San Diego. While there are several explanations for it being called boot camp, keep in mind that the recruits wear boots nearly every day of their training. It is never called basic training.

boots 'n' utes: Boots and utility uniform.

brain-housing group: Just as a service rifle has a trigger-housing group, each Marine has a brain-housing group that sometimes is not as engaged as a Marine's senior may like.

brass: Brass uniform items or casings from weapons. One gets shined; the other is something you police up. It is also used as a term for senior officers.

brig: Place of confinement aboard ship or ashore at a Marine Corps or naval station; the post prison. Never a stockade.

brightwork: Brass or shiny metal, which Marines must polish.

brig rat: One who has served much brig time. A habitual offender.

brown-bagger: A married Marine who lives off base with his family.

bulkheads: Walls.

bus drivers: Based on the way the uniform of the Air Force looked when it was first issued, people in the Air Force became known to Marines as bus drivers.

"By your leave, sir/ma'am.": When overtaking a senior officer in rank proceeding in the same direction, draw abreast on the senior's left, coming to the salute as you say, "By your leave, sir." The senior officer acknowledges the salute and replies, "Granted" or "Carry on."

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C & S: "Clean and sober," notation formerly entered on the liberty list beside the names of Marines returning from liberty in that condition.

catwalk: Walkway constructed over or around obstructions on a ship.

A 'chalk' of Marines with 2d Battalion, Third Marine Regiment, boarded a CH-53D Sea Stallion helicopter. (Photo by Sgt Joseph A. Lee)
A "chalk" of Marines with 2d Battalion, Third Marine Regiment, boarded a CH-53D Sea Stallion helicopter. (Photo by Sgt Joseph A. Lee)

chalk: A squad of Marines in a helicopter.

chaser: Contraction of prisoner-chaser, an escort for a prisoner or detail of prisoners.

chevrons: Symbols of enlisted ranks above private. Never stripes.

chief: Chief Petty Officer. It is best and respectful to address senior chief petty officers and master chief petty officers as senior chief and master chief.

chit: Probably derived from Hindu word chitti. A letter, note, voucher or receipt, such as a light duty chit.

chow: Food.

chow down: To eat.

chowhound: A gourmet on the rampage.

circular file: an office GI can.

CNN effect: The fascination of disruption created by extensive, live television presence in a combat zone.

C.O.B.: Close of business.

colonel: Proper in addressing lieutenant colonels and colonels.

CommO: Communications officer.

comm-rats: Commuted rations, extra pay for married personnel.

CONUS: Continental United States.

corpsman: The "doc." Always corpsman, never medic or aid man.

covered and uncovered: When and when not wearing headgear. It is somewhat improper, although common, to refer to headgear as a cover. Marines wear hats, caps, helmets, etc.

CP: Charlie Papa, command post.

crew-served: In addition to the obvious meaning such as crew-served weapons, it means very large and very powerful. "I've got a crew-served problem."

cruise: An enlistment period. Never a hitch.

CS: Tear gas or 0-chlorobenzalmalononitrile, a white solid powder usually mixed with a dispersal agent, like methylene chloride, which carries the particles through the air.

cumshaw: Slang for something extra or free. Pidgin English expression using the Chinese word, kamsia (meaning grateful) and sia (meaning thanks).

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D & D: Drunk and disorderly. An entry formerly made on the liberty list beside the name of any Marine returning from liberty in that condition.

dai jobi: (Japanese) OK.

dead horse: To draw advance pay out of the normal pay cycle. The Marine is then obligated to repay the debt at the government's convenience.

deck: Floor, surface of the earth. Also, to knock down with one blow.

deep-six: To dispose of by throwing over the side.

defecation hits the oscillation: You know what hits the fan.

devil docs: Nickname for Navy Corpsmen who have graduated Field Medical Service School to become qualified for service alongside the Marines of the Corps' operational forces.

devil dog: On June 12 and 13, 1918, Marines fought the Battle of Belleau Wood in France. The valor of the Fourth Marine Brigade was such that the wood is now called "Bois de la Brigade de Marine" or "Woods of the Marine Brigade." According to BGen Edwin H. Simmons, USMC (Ret) in his book "The United States Marines: The First Two Hundred Years": "The Germans made their own sober assessment and begrudgingly allowed that Marines might be considered to be of storm-trooper quality. There was also a less formal assessment being made in the ranks: 'Teufelhunden,' 'hound of hell' or 'devil dog,' an appellation the Marines accepted as a compliment."

Disneyland East: Headquarters, U.S. Marine Corps, Arlington, Va.

Doc: Navy medical corpsman attached to the Marines.

Official Department of Defense seal

DOD: Department of Defense. It replaced the War Department.

dog: Small, bent metal fitting used to secure watertight doors, hatches, covers, scuttles, etc.

doggie: Diminutive for "dog-face," an enlisted person in the Army.

door: A door is a door. Dogging or dog secures it. It is not a hatch.

dope: Information. Sight setting and/or wind correction for a rifle under given conditions.

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eightball: Worthless, troublesome individual who deservedly remains behind the eightball.

Eighth and Eye: Marine Barracks, Washington, D.C., the Corps' oldest post, established in 1801. It is located at 8th and I streets, S.E.

EM: Do not use. Just say enlisted man or woman. Even better, say, "Marine."

embed: Journalist who is assigned a slot within a combat unit.

The Unites States Marine Corps Emblem

Emblem: Unites States Marine Corps Emblem, or Corps badge, adopted in 1868, frequently referred to as the globe and anchor, and lately the eagle, globe and anchor. Never EGA.

Ensign: Colors, national flag. Also a junior commissioned officer in the Navy.

EPD: Extra police duties.

EPW: Enemy prisoner of war.

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fart sack: The linen one slips a mattress into.

feather merchant: A Marine of slight build, a tactical lightweight.

field day: Day or portion of day set aside for general cleanup or police of an organization or area.

field expediency: To use what you have. To make do.

field hat: Broad-brimmed felt hat, originally with one straight crease down the middle, then with a Montana peak, beginning in 1912 worn on expeditionary service by the Marine Corps until May 1942, and then authorized in the February 1961 uniform regulations for wear at rifle ranges and recruit depots. In the 1961 regs, it's called the campaign hat.

field music: Drummer or trumpeter.

field scarf: Regulation Marine Corps necktie.

field-strip: to disassemble without further breakdown the major groups of a piece of ordnance or weapon for routine cleaning or oiling. One also field-strips cigarette butts and their filters.

Corporal Reinmar Maranon of 3d Battalion, 11th Marine Regiment monitered the company radio from his fighting hole outside Az Zubayr, Iraq, during Operation Iraqi Freedom, March 22, 2003. (Photo by LCpl Kevin C. Quihuis Jr.)
Corporal Reinmar Maranon of 3d Battalion, 11th Marine Regiment monitered the company radio from his fighting hole outside Az Zubayr, Iraq, during Operation Iraqi Freedom, March 22, 2003. (Photo by LCpl Kevin C. Quihuis Jr.)

fighting hole: See foxhole.

first soldier: First sergeant.

fore-and-aft cap: Garrison cap, also frequently referred to as a p--- cutter.

four-deuce: 4.2 (107-mm) mortar.

foxhole: Today's Marines call it a fighting hole, but it also is known as a foxhole, according to Col Robert Debs Heinl Jr., USMC in his "Soldiers of the Sea": "One abiding by-product of the Belleau Wood action [France, 1918] was a new term in the soldier's argot: as the Marines scratched out shallow rifle pits wherever the front lines lay, somebody called them 'foxholes.' The name caught on."

FUBAR: Fouled up beyond all recognition, similar to SNAFU.

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galley: Kitchen.

gangway: A ship's passageway. A term used to inform juniors to give way to seniors in ships' passageways, and particularly when going up and down ladders. The command can be given by anyone who sees an officer or civilian dignitary approaching a gangway, ladder or passage, which is blocked.

gear: Property or equipment. Personal gear is of course an individual Marine's property.

general: A polite term for brigadier general, major general, lieutenant general and general.

general mess: The enlisted mess.

gerbil launcher: M203 grenade launcher.

GI: Use squared away or regulation. It is verboten to speak of an enlisted Marine as a GI.

GI cans: Garbage cans. An office circular file.

GI house: Where garbage is stored until it is hauled away.

Gitmo: Moniker for U.S. Naval Base, Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

gizmo: Any miscellaneous, nondescript, unidentified thing or gadget.

greens: Referring to service uniforms and their color. Never olive drab.

grinder/deck: A parade ground or deck used primarily for drill. Purists say that it is improper to call it a deck, but nobody seems to listen to them anyway. Grinder is a better word. Ask anyone who has ever drilled on one for hours.

grunt: An infantryman. Also known as a crunchie.

gung ho: Chinese phrase meaning to "work together." Introduced by Colonel Evans F. Carlson, it became the battle cry of the WW II Marine Raiders, particularly the 2d Raider Battalion. A particularly avid Marine is also called gungy.

gunner: Shortened version of Marine gunner—the title for line warrant officers, designated experts in various combat arms and tactics, signified by a bursting bomb designation.

gunny: A gunnery sergeant. Not a master gunnery sergeant.

gyrene: Marine. The origin of this word is uncertain. It has been around at least since the 1920s. It definitely does not come from G.I. Marine.
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hack: Arrest. Officers to be in or to be under arrest.

half-mast: Position of the ensign when hoisted halfway; usually done in respect to a deceased person. Not half-staff.

hashmark: Service stripe worn on the uniform sleeve by enlisted men and women for completion of four years of honorable service in any of the U.S. Armed Services and Reserves.

hatch: The cover over the opening that leads to the ladder wells between decks of ships. It is not a door or doorway.

HDR: Humanitarian daily ration. A variation on the MRE used to feed a malnourished person for one day with 2,300 calories.

headgear: Hats, helmets, caps, etc.

heads: Bathrooms or latrines. A nautical term stemming from the days of sailing ships when sailors and Marines answered nature's call by going forward to the bow of the ship.

homesteading: Remaining at one duty station for an extended tour or consecutive tours.

honcho: A Japanese term that applies to the Marine in charge.

housewife: Sewing kit.

hump: To lift, carry. Originally an Australian digger's word, "to hump one's swag," meaning to carry one's load.

huss: To give a helping hand. The UH-34 Sea Horse helicopter was designated as the "HUS," and when Vietnam-era Marines needed a medical evacuation helicopter, they'd ask for or to be cut a huss.
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I & I: Inspector-instructor. A regular officer assigned to supervise the training of a Reserve unit.

IG: The Inspector General.

IG Inspection: An official inspection of a command or unit by the IG or his representatives.

Irish pennants: Loose threads, string or straps that detract from a squared-away appearance.

Iron Mike: Nickname bestowed on the World War I Marine statue hefting a machine gun in front of the Headquarters and Service Battalion, Parris Island, S.C.

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jarhead: Records from Headquarters, U.S. Marine Corps cite references that state, "Jarhead is probably parallel to, or derived from, jug head." Leatherneck magazine in 1933 cited Army soldiers as being called jarheads. However, according to limited information, the term as it applies to Marines is traced to the Navy in WW II. Sailors referred to Marines, drawing from the resemblance of the Marine dress blue uniform, with its high collar, to a Mason jar.

joe: Coffee. Named so because of Secretary of the Navy Josephus Daniels, who eliminated beer and wine from naval ships, declaring nothing stronger than a cup of coffee would be allowed.

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K or klicks: Kilometer—a unit of measure. One klick or K equals 1,000 meters.

Ka-Bar: Famous USMC fighting/utility knife first issued during WW II.

keeper: The cloth "keeper" of the green service blouse to hold the cloth belt neatly in
place.

keyboard jockey: Anyone whose job causes him or her to be at a computer for a length
of time.

knock it off: Stop what you are doing.

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lad: A young man. Never a boy. Lass is proper for a young woman. Never WM.

ladder/ladder wells: Stairs.

lass: A young woman. Never a WM.

leatherneck: A U.S. Marine. (The Marine uniform originally had a leather-lined collar.) Since the days of the Barbary pirates, U.S. Marines have called themselves "leathernecks." Legend and lore have it that the term leatherneck was derived from leather neckbands worn in the late 1700s to protect Marines from the slash of the cutlass. Another more likely reason is that the high stocks were worn for discipline to keep the Marines' heads high and straight. Neither explanation has ever been verified. Whatever the reason, the name leatherneck stuck and the distinctive dress blue uniform blouse still bears a high stock collar to remind Marines of the leatherneck legacy. Leatherneck: Magazine of the Marines.

leggings: Seldom worn today, leggings are canvass with eyelets and laces to secure the trouser legs over shoes.

liberty: Authorized free time ashore or off station, not counted as leave.

liberty list: Periodic list prepared by the first sergeant, containing the names of enlisted Marines entitled to liberty, employed by the guard in checking enlisted personnel on and off the ship or station.

lieutenant: Proper for either first or second lieutenants. Never L.T.

Lima Charlie: Phonetic alphabet signifying loud and clear.

line company: Originally a separate, numbered Marine company performing infantry duties. Now, lettered Marine companies or the aviation term for ground units.

lollygagging: The sailor-like habit of fooling around or to dawdle.

long handles: Winter skivvies.

lost lieutenant finder: A hand-held GPS unit.

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ma'am: Replaces sir, when addressing women officers in particular and all women in general.

Mac Marine: Any Marine. Mac was a popular term with Marines during WW II, similar to calling someone Bub. Mac Marine was the Marine career planner popular on posters of the 1960s.

Maggie's drawers: A red flag attached to a pole, which those pulling butts in the pits wave to signal a miss. Today the flag has changed to a red disc, but it is still "Maggie's drawers."

MAGTF: Marine air-ground task force—a reservoir of combat capabilities made up of a command element, combat service support element, aviation combat element and ground combat element. The smallest is a MEU and largest is a MEF.

main battle tank: M1A1 tank. Avoid calling it by its Army name, i.e., Abrams tank.

Major: The CO of a ship's Marine detachment. On a ship there can be only one captain among her officers and that's the captain of the ship. Consequently, the CO of the Marine detachment, usually a Marine captain, is called a major. Provided by Maj Rick Spooner, USMC (Ret), former ship's MarDet commander.

Marine: leatherneck, devil dog, sea soldier, soldier of the sea, jarhead, gyrene.

master guns or master gunny: Master gunnery sergeant.

MEF: Marine expeditionary force. The largest of MAGTF units, approximately 46,100 Marines and sailors. It can range in size from less than a division to several divisions, aircraft wings and FSSGs.

messmen: Not KPs or mess cooks.

mike-mike: Millimeter.

military time: General Wallace M. Greene Jr., 23rd Commandant of the Marine Corps, forbade the practice of suffixing the unnecessary word "hours" after each indication of time of day. This is another Army usage. Say or write "1200," never "1200 hours."

Mister: Marine lieutenants, CWOs and warrant officers were at one time addressed as mister. Naval officers with the rank of lieutenant commander or below. Women officers are addressed as ma'am. Women Marine lieutenants and warrant officers technically may be addressed as miss or misses, but the terms may seem too civilian with today's women officers. Caution and good judgment are paramount.

monkey suit: Originally the fur suit used by WW I and WW II aviators at high altitudes. Now used to refer to military uniforms in general.

MRE: Meal, ready to eat. Standard U.S. field ration sometimes called "Meals rejected by Ethiopia."

MSG: Marine Security Guard. Embassy duty.

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NCO: Noncommissioned officer—corporal or sergeant. Never noncoms.

NJP: Non-judicial punishment. Legally speaking, a commanding officer is authorized to award summary punishments and courts-martial at office hours (called Captain's Mast afloat). The CO or an officer in charge may nevertheless inflict NJP. NJP under Article 15, UCMJ, is intended to take care of offenses too serious to be dealt with by a mere rebuke, but not serious enough to warrant court-martial.

non-rated: Not an NCO or petty officer rank. A snuffy.

No Such Agency: the National Security Agency, so called because of its secret budget and ultrasecret methods.

number one: The best.

number ten: The worst.

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O-dark thirty: Very early, well before dawn.

office hours: Captain's Mast when afloat. Office hours can be, and frequently are, devoted to nondisciplinary matters such as praise, special requests and the like. However, it also deals with legal and disciplinary aspects. It is not merely an administrative procedure, but also a ceremony intended to dramatize praise and admonition. Like any ceremony, it should be dignified, disciplined, especially set apart in the daily routine and carefully planned.

officers' club or officers' mess: Never O-club.

officers' country: Officers' living spaces on board ship. Any portion of the post or station allocated for the exclusive use of officers.

OJT: On-the-job training.

Old Asia Hand: You can take his advice 'cause he's seen it all twice. Anyone with more than one tour in Asia.

Old Man: The commanding officer.

oorah: Although the other services have since come up with their own versions, oorah is the uniquely Marine way of replying positively to almost anything. In 1953 members of 1st Amphibious Reconnaissance Company were aboard the submarine USS Perch (ASSP-313). Perch was a WW II diesel retrofitted to carry underwater demolition teams and Recon Marines. Whenever the boat was to dive, someone would announce over the PA system, "Dive, dive!" and sound a klaxon horn that sounded like "arrugha!" While 1st Amphib Recon Marines were on conditioning runs on land, they started singing chants. Someone imitated the horn sound "arrugha," and it became a Recon mantra: lexicon. Former Sergeant Major of the Marine Corps John Massaro took "arrugha" from Recon with him to Drill Instructor School and passed it to the DI students, who in turn passed it to their recruits. Arrugha eventually evolved into "oorah."

OQR: Officer qualification record, officer service record.

out of bounds: An area or space restricted from use by normal traffic, or prohibited to enlisted Marines. Sometimes called "restricted area." Avoid using "off limits," an Army and Air Force equivalent.

outside: Civilian life, sometimes colloquialized as, "Sergeant Boatspace is now serving on USS Outside."

overheads: Ceilings.

over the hill: To the desert. Too old.

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padre: Spanish, meaning "father," thus Catholic chaplains.

parade ground/field/deck: Purists will call it a parade ground, but parade deck is acceptable.

passageway: A corridor or hallway.

passed over: In the status of having failed selection for the next higher rank.

pay grades: The DOD system of designating a U.S. serviceperson's pay: enlisted E-1 to E-9; warrant officers O-1E to 0-5E, and officer 0-1 to 0-10. Pay grades are not ranks, or billets. One would never call the Sergeant Major of the Marine Corps, E-9 of the Marine Corps, or the Commandant, 0-10 of the Marine Corps. Neither should one refer to others or themselves as, say, an E-7 or 0-6. Give people their correct ranks.

PCS: Permanent change of station, transfer to another post, station, base or installation.

PFC: Private first class.

p--- and punk: Solitary confinement on bread and water. Only authorized on board ship and sometimes called B & W.

platoon sergeant: A staff NCO (usually a staff sergeant) in a platoon, executive to the platoon leader, usually a lieutenant.

pogey bait: Candy, cookies, sweets favored by pogues.

pogey rope: Fourragere.

pogue: Anyone who is not in combat arms and not on the front line.

police: To pick up items such as brass and butts and to square away an area.

port: Left. On a ship the port light, like port wine, is red. Opposite of starboard.

pot shack: Where pots are washed.

POV: Privately owned vehicle.

property shed: A place where organizational property is stored.

pucker factor: Level of anxiety experienced by aircrews or others in tight situations.

PX: Post Exchange. Here the Corps borrowed from the Army. It is in reality the Marine Corps Exchange, but PX is the common term, not BX.

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quarters: Government housing. Periodic, usually daily semimilitary muster of a ship's company.

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racks or sacks or bunks: Beds.

radio watch: Phone watch.

ranks: There is no contraction or shortened way of addressing the following: privates, lance corporals, corporals, sergeants (never sarge), staff sergeants, sergeants major, warrant officers, majors and colonels.

red death: Poorly prepared corned beef with cabbage.

red lead: Catsup.

reefer: A large refrigerator or refrigerated room.

regulation: Strictly in accordance with regulations or adopted specifications. Issued from government sources (equivalent Army term, "GI").

RHIP: Colloquial abbreviation for the service phrase: "Rank hath its privileges."

rock happy: Eccentric or mildly deranged as the result of long overseas duty at a remote station, usually an island; akin to Asiatic but without cosmopolitan connections.

Rocks and Shoals: Articles for the Government of the Navy, better-known as Rocks and Shoals, was prior to 1951, when replaced by the UCMJ, the military law governing the individual conduct and performance of duty in the naval services. Rocks and Shoals were, according to Captain Donald I. Thomas, USN (Ret), "wonderfully inspiring. We heard the dire consequences to those who 'suffered any vessel of the Navy to be stranded or run upon rocks and shoals, or improperly hazarded'; or who, 'when engaged in battle, treacherously yields or pusillanimously cries for quarter.' We were enjoined to 'guard against and suppress all dissolute and immoral practices.' Court-martial punishment was provided for any person 'who is guilty of profane swearing, falsehood, drunkenness, gambling, fraud, theft or any other conduct tending to the destruction of good morals.' We learned that any officer 'who absents himself from his command without leave may be sentenced by a court-martial to be reduced to the rating of seaman second class.' "

running lights: The navigational night lights on a ship or a Marine's eyes.

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sailor: acceptable: bluejacket, tar. Not so acceptable: gob, swab, swabbie, squid. Probably fighting words: anchor clanker, rust picker, deck ape.

salt: Salt from the brine. A Marine or sailor who has been at sea for a while or who had a number of years in the Corps or Navy is a salt.

salty: A Marine or sailor who is not necessarily a salt, but can act or appear salty, which can reflect a certain disregard for rules.

salty language: Profanity. It is the wise officer and NCO who avoids salty language or keeps it to a minimum.

Sayonara: (Japanese) goodbye.

scrounge: to appropriate, borrow or acquire by doubtful means; derived from "scringe," meaning to search about, rummage or pilfer.

scullery: Where dishes are washed.

scuttlebutts: Drinking fountains. A "butt" is a cask. To "scuttle" means to make a hole in a ship's side, causing it to sink. A scuttlebutt in the days of wooden ships and iron men was a cask that had an opening in its side, fitted with a spigot. Casks of oak were used to contain fresh water for drinking purposes. Because people gather around a scuttlebutt, the gossip, rumor and sea stories are called scuttlebutt.

Lance Corporal Sean Crozier waited for his little brother to help with a seabag while returning from Iraq, Aug. 13, 2003, to Camp Pendleton, Calif. (Photo by SSgt Bill Lisbon)
Lance Corporal Sean Crozier waited for his little brother to help with a seabag while returning from Iraq, Aug. 13, 2003, to Camp Pendleton, Calif. (Photo by SSgt Bill Lisbon)

sea bags: Never duffel bags or barracks bags.

seagoing: Pertaining to or assigned to sea duty.

sea lawyer: Never barracks lawyer.

sea story: A yarn calculated to impress recruits or other gullible individuals. Fairy tales start off, "Once upon a time …" Sea stories start, "This is no s---."

secure: Stop, make fast, cease work or put away.

semper fi: A variant of semper fidelis (always faithful); the motto of the Corps. For several years during WW II and until the early 1980s, it also was a derisive term, "Semper fi, Mac!" that meant "I got mine; how are you doing?" or "Roll up the ladder. I'm aboard." Today "Semper fi" is a friendly and positive greeting or sign-off among Marines.

sheets: maps

ship over: To reenlist, not reup, for another cruise.

shooter: A Marine whose avocation is marksmanship with a rifle or pistol; loosely, a Marine who has displayed special prowess with rifle or pistol, or who has served with distinction on the Marine Corps rifle or pistol teams.

short-timer: One nearing the completion of his present tour of duty or whose enlistment is due to expire. We once knew someone so "short," he had to parachute off a dime.

shove off: To leave the vicinity.

sick bay: Ship or unit aid station, dispensary or infirmary.

sick call: Daily period when routine ailments are treated at sick bay.

side arms: Cream and sugar served with coffee. It also refers to weapons carried by Marines under arms.

sight in: In general, to aim a weapon at a target; loosely used as a synonym for zero.

skipper: Derived from the Scandinavian word schiffe, meaning ship, and the Dutch word schipper, meaning captain. A Marine captain.

skivvies: Underwear: skivvie shirt and skivvie drawers.

skylark: To run up and down the rigging of a ship in sport. To lollygag and frolic.

slopchute: PX restaurant or beer garden (equivalent of geedunk on board ship).

SNAFU: Situation normal, all fouled-up. Similar to FUBAR.

Kandyce Riggs, then a recruit at MCRD, Parris Island, S.C., snapped in on a barrel in the kneeling position at boot camp, Nov. 26, 2003. (Photo by Cpl Jennifer Brofer)
Kandyce Riggs, then a recruit at MCRD, Parris Island, S.C., snapped in on a barrel in the kneeling position at boot camp, Nov. 26, 2003. (Photo by Cpl Jennifer Brofer)

snap in: To conduct sighting or aiming exercises with an unloaded weapon. To try out for, or break in for a new job.

snot locker: One's nose.

snow job: Misleading or grossly exaggerated report or sales talk. Remember that bar girl saying, "It nebber snow on Okinawa!"

snuffie or snuffy: Junior Marine in the grade of lance corporal and below.

soldier: The XO of a ship's Marine detachment. A ship's complement may already have a first lieutenant (an officer in charge of cleanliness and general upkeep of a ship or shore station. It is a duty not a rank.). Consequently, the XO of the MarDet is referred to as soldier. Attributed to Maj Rick Spooner, USMC (Ret), CO of a heavy cruiser MarDet.

SOS: An international distress signal or a dish of creamed beef on toast, better known as s--- on a shingle. Here are a couple of SOS recipes.

spit and polish: extreme individual or collective military neatness. Extreme devotion to the minutiae of traditional military procedures, ceremonies.

spit-shine: To shine leather, employing spittle or tap water to remove excess grease and produce a high polish. An extremely high polish on a piece of leather.

splice of the mainbrace: During sea battles between wooden ships, the rigging was a favored target, and following an engagement the first duty was to repair broken gear, sheets and braces. It was custom, after the main braces were spliced, to serve grog to the entire crew. Today, the meaning is a general invitation to have a drink.

spud locker: A place where fresh vegetables are stored.

squadbays: Barracks room occupied by privates and junior NCOs.

square away: Make a neat and regulation appearance. One can also present a neat, regulation and squared-away appearance.

stacking swivel: An oblong-shaped link with an opening screwed to the rifle that allowed other rifles to be hooked and stacked. The M1 Garand was the last service rifle to have a stacking swivel. To grab by the stacking swivel is to grab by the throat.

staff NCO: Staff noncommissioned officers: staff sergeant, gunnery sergeant, master
sergeant, first sergeant, master gunnery sergeant and sergeant major.

starboard: Right. On a ship the starboard light is green. Opposite of Port.

survey: Medical discharge; to effect discharge or retirement of an individual for medical reasons; to dispose of an item of government property by reason of unserviceability.

swab: A mop or a sailor.

swoop: To make a long trip in a short period of time; to drive home during weekend liberty.

sympathy chit: Chit supposedly issued by those in authority, or by chaplains authorizing an individual with many woes to obtain a prescribed amount of sympathy. An expression used derisively to indicate a lack of sympathy or concern over the plight of another.

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TAD: Temporary additional duty for Marines and sailors. Not TDY, which appears on many joint forms and is an Army and Air Force term.

The military: Avoid this unflattering term for anybody in uniform.

The Rock: Okinawa.

tie-ties: Strings used to tie laundry items to the clothes line. Also old issue skivvies had tie-ties.

tight-jawed: Angry.

tip of the spear: The leading unit in combat.

top: A Marine master sergeant. Not a first sergeant, not a master gunnery sergeant, and certainly not a sergeant major.

topside: Ship's deck or area exposed to the weather. Upper deck.

tore up: Messed up, broken, messy, unserviceable.

trooper: Of Army origin. Refer to an individual Marine as a Marine, never a trooper.

troops: As a plural, it is acceptable, but not troopers. People is best.

trousers: Never pants.

two-block: To hoist a flag or pennant to the peak, truck or yardarm. A field scarf with the knot positioned exactly in the "v" between the collar of a buttoned shirt.

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UCMJ: The Uniform Code of Military Justice (Public Law 506, 81st Congress) 1951 is the system of military law, both judicial and nonjudicial, now in force throughout the U.S. Armed Forces.

UD: Unit Diary morning report.

un-ass: To get off of, or out of, as in "Let's un-ass this place."

under arms: A Marine is under arms when he has a weapon in his hand, is equipped with side-arms, or when he is wearing equipment pertaining to an arm such as a sword sling, pistol belt or cartridge belt. Any Marine wearing an "MP" or "SP" brassard is considered under arms.

under canvas: Living under canvas covers everything from life in a shelter half up to a squad tent.

under way: To depart, or to start out for an objective.

utilities: Camouflage or digital, herringbone or sateen, the field and work uniforms of Marines are utilities or utes, never BDUs and no longer called dungarees.

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WAG: Wild-ass guess, followed by the more precise SWAG: scientific wild-ass guess.

Walking John: Traditional nickname for a Marine Corps sergeant in blues (marching) who sometimes appears on recruiting posters.

war belt: Web belt worn in the field.

War paint can be purchased in compacts, tubes and sticks. (Photo by Cpl Kurt Fredrickson)
War paint can be purchased in compacts, tubes and sticks. (Photo by Cpl Kurt Fredrickson)

war paint: Sticks of camouflage face paint.

watch: Official tour of duty of prescribed length, such as guard or officer of the day.

water buffalo: A 400-gallon water tank/trailer towed behind a truck or externally hauled by helicopter.

wet down: To serve drinks in honor of one's promotion.

whites: Marine Corps or Navy white uniforms.

Willie Peter bag: A waterproof bag.

woman Marine: It is always best to use the term Marine, for that is what they are. When gender differentiation is needed, use woman Marine, female Marine or even lady Marine. Never WM, and BAM is verboten.

work one's bolt: To resort to special measures, either by energy or guile. To attain a particular end.

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yellow legs: Name given by the Communist North Korean Army to U.S. Marines, whom they feared and recognized by their discolored, yellow-looking leggings.

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zoomie: Term of a Marine who serves with an aviation unit: a wing wiper or airdale.

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