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Military Terms That Are Part of Our Everyday Vocabulary

Military culture has figured so prominently in the West over the centuries that we have absorbed much of its vernacular almost without realizing it. The industry has bequeathed English speakers a wealth of military terminology to incorporate.

From words to phrases to acronyms, here’s a sampling of military slang you’ve probably either used or heard.

Roger that

A reply meaning “understood.” A common variant is “copy that.” Find what “Roger that” means.

Autopilot

In the military, this term implies a maneuver that was carried out without having been ordered. Out of context, it refers to something done unconsciously, automatically, or generally without thought.

Blockbuster

Any event defined by its dazzling success — in civilian society, usually monetary (a blockbuster film).

Chopper

A well-known nickname for a helicopter, so called for the way the blades appear to chop the air.

411

Getting the 411, militarily speaking, means getting briefed on one’s mission ahead of time. It has been appropriated to mean acquiring any kind of information, usually in order to execute a task.

ASAP

You might be surprised to learn that the acronym “as soon as possible” originates in military operations.

Deadline

Literally a line drawn around a prison that, if passed by a prisoner, resulted in death by shooting. We take it to mean the point at which something must be done, after which there may be (almost certainly less grave) consequences.

Fruit salad

U.S. military jargon describing the colorful array of ribbons decorating the breast area of a soldier’s dress uniform. A bit more formal than average.

AWOL

Stands for “absent without (with/out) leave” and refers to anyone who has disappeared unexpectedly and with no explanation.

Whiskey Tango Foxtrot

Deriving from the NATO alphabet, the acronym tells you all you need to know.


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