What is Military Slang?


Military slang is an array of colloquial terminology used commonly by military personnel, including slang which is unique to or originates with the armed forces.

In English-speaking countries, it often takes the form of abbreviations/acronyms or derivations of the NATO Phonetic Alphabet, or otherwise incorporates aspects of formal military terms and concepts. Military slang is often used to reinforce or reflect (usually friendly and humorous) interservice rivalries.

“Military Speech”

Junjiahua, also known as “military speech”, a collection of scattered modern day Chinese dialects derived from the lingua franca of the Ming dynasty (1368-1644) military.

Acronym Slang in the US Military

A number of military slang terms are acronyms. Rick Atkinson ascribes the origin of SNAFU (Situation Normal, All Fucked Up), FUBAR (Fucked Up Beyond Any Repair or “All Recognition”), and a bevy of other terms to cynical GIs ridiculing the US Army’s penchant for acronyms.

Terms then end up being used in other industries as these GIs complete their services. For example, FUBAR evolved into Foobar as GIs coming home from World War II matriculated into Massachusetts Institute of Technology, with the first written use from a club at MIT called the Tech Model Railroad Club.

A number of military slang terms are acronyms. These include SNAFU, SUSFU, FUBAR, and similar terms used by various branches of the United States military during World War II.


Slang TermOutline
BOHICA1. Bend Over, Here It Comes Again.
2. The meaning is that something undesirable is going to happen again and that there’s not much else one can do other than just endure it.
FUBAR1. FUBAR (Fucked/Fouled Up Beyond All Repair/Recognition), like SNAFU and SUSFU, dates from World War II. The Oxford English Dictionary lists Yank, the Army Weekly magazine (07 January 1944, p.8) as its earliest citation: “The FUBAR squadron. ‥ FUBAR? It means ‘Fucked/Fouled Up Beyond All Recognition.”
2. Another version of FUBAR, said to have originated in the military, gives its meaning as “Fucked Up By Assholes in the Rear”. This version has at least surface validity in that it is a common belief among enlistees that most problems are created by the military brass (officers, especially those bearing the rank of general, from one to four stars). This version is also most likely to have had its origin in the US Army, where the senior officers command from the rear, as opposed to a navy, where it is not uncommon for admirals to command a fleet from one of the ships at sea, and therefore susceptible to attacks and death by the enemy. Ditto as to air force generals, who do not fly and/or directly command airplanes or even squadrons or air wings. FUBAR had a resurgence in the American lexicon after the term was used in two popular movies: Tango and Cash (1989); and Saving Private Ryan (1998).
3. This particular FUBAR acronym survived WWII and for a time, mainly in the 1970s, found its way into the lexicon of management consultants. Although the word “rear” is not normally used to describe the vantage point of senior corporate executives, their use of the term might have come about as the result of their frequent conclusions that the cause of corporate problems (inefficiencies and ineffectiveness causing poor profitability or a negative bottom line) rested not with rank and file workers, but rather with executives, particularly senior executives – the equivalent of senior military officers.
4. One possible origin of the term comes from the German word “furchtbar” meaning frightful, negative, or bad. A skilled German speaker pronouncing the word would say something which to an anglo would sound like “Foitebar”. Being unable to collectively pronounce the German “rcht” spelling inflection, but knowing the words pronunciation was not greatly modified by it, an anglo would naturally simplify it to “Fuubar/Fubar” in common usage. A similar scenario had occurred with French “M’aider” becoming “Mayday” in WWI, with contractions not being common in English verbs it was translated as a single word.
FUBU1. FUBU (Fucked/Fouled Up Beyond all Understanding) was also used during World War II.
2. Not to be confused with FUBU the hip hop apparel company, ‘For Us, By Us’.
FRED1. FRED (Fucking Ridiculous Eating Device) is a slang term in the Australian Army used to refer to the Field Ration Eating Device attached to each ration pack.
SNAFU1. SNAFU is widely used to stand for the sarcastic expression Situation Normal: All Fucked Up, as a well-known example of military acronym slang. However, the military acronym originally stood for “Status Nominal: All Fucked Up.” It is sometimes bowdlerized to all fouled up or similar. It means that the situation is bad, but that this is a normal state of affairs. It is typically used in a joking manner to describe something that is working as intended. The acronym is believed to have originated in the United States Marine Corps during World War II.
2. Time magazine used the term in their 16 June 1942 issue: “Last week U.S. citizens knew that gasoline rationing and rubber requisitioning were snafu.” Most reference works, including the Random House Webster’s Unabridged Dictionary, supply an origin date of 1940-1944, generally attributing it to the US Army.
3. Rick Atkinson ascribes the origin of SNAFU, FUBAR, and a bevy of other terms to cynical G.I.s ridiculing the Army’s penchant for acronyms.
4. Private Snafu is the title character of a series of military instructional films, most of which were written by Theodor “Dr. Seuss” Geisel, Philip D. Eastman, and Munro Leaf.
5. In modern usage, snafu is sometimes used as an interjection, although it is mostly now used as a noun. Snafu also sometimes refers to a bad situation, mistake, or cause of the trouble. It is more commonly used in modern vernacular to describe running into an error or problem that is large and unexpected. For example, in 2005, The New York Times published an article titled “Hospital Staff Cutback Blamed for Test Result Snafu”.
6. The attribution of SNAFU to the American military is not universally accepted: it has also been attributed to the British, although the Oxford English Dictionary gives its origin and first recorded use as the US military.
7. In 1946, as part of a wider study of military slang, Frederick Elkin noted: “…[there] are a few acceptable substitutes, such as ‘screw up’ or ‘mess up’, but these do not have the emphasis value of the obscene equivalent.” He considered the expression SNAFU to be: “…a caricature of Army direction. The soldier resignedly accepts his own less responsible position and expresses his cynicism at the inefficiency of Army authority.” He also noted that “the expression … is coming into general civilian use.
An Imperial FU1. An Imperial FU (An Imperial Fuck Up) was used during World War I by soldiers of the outlying British Empire, e.g. Canada, Australia, New Zealand, the Union of South Africa, Kenya, Tanganyika, India, in reference to odd/conflicting orders from British authorities.
2. Note that during World War I, the British Empire had an Imperial War Cabinet, and the troops from Australia were called the Australian Imperial Force (AIF), not to be confused with the AEF, the American Expeditionary Forces of WWI, or the Allied Expeditionary Force of WWII.
SUSFU1. SUSFU (Situation Unchanged: Still Fucked Up) is closely related to SNAFU.
2. SNAFU and SUSFU were first recorded in American Notes and Queries in their 13 September 1941 issue
TARFU1. TARFU (Totally And Royally Fucked Up or Things Are Really Fucked Up) was also used during World War II.
2. The 1944 US Army animated shorts Three Brothers and Private Snafu Presents Seaman Tarfu In The Navy (both directed by Friz Freleng), feature the characters Private Snafu, Private Fubar, and Seaman Tarfu (with a cameo by Bugs Bunny).

Tommy and the Poor Bloody Infantry

Tommy Atkins (often just Tommy) is slang for a common soldier in the British Army, but many soldiers preferred the terms PBI (poor bloody infantry) “P.B.I.” was a pseudonym of a contributor to the First World War trench magazine The Wipers Times.

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