United States Navy Lingo + Relevance


*No offense intended. As a Navy veteran, it is my goal to educate and promulgate the symbolic nature of our Armed Forces and the men and women who dedicate(d) their literal lives to our country. Thank you all for being my heroes.*

O’dark-thirty: after midnight and before daylight; most typically when people would be deep asleep; not a reference to any particular time. Can also reference any time of day. When underway, unless you go outside, it’s always dark.

1MC: the general announcing system on a ship

091222-N-2564M-106 NORFOLK (Dec. 22, 2009) Rear Adm. Michelle Howard, commander of Expeditionary Strike Group Two, commends the crew of the multi-purpose amphibious assault ship USS Wasp (LHD 1) during ship’s return to Norfolk after a three-month deployment in the Southern Command area of responsibility supporting Southern Partnership Station-Amphib. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Andrew McCord/Released)

Air Force Salute: “I don’t know” shrug of the shoulders; also called an Ensign Salute

“Another Fine Navy Day!”: an expression said (in a very cheery manner) on occasions when, in fact, it is not a Fine Navy Day; compared to “Living the dream!” in civilian-speak. Sarcasm at its best.

Aye, aye: yes (I heard the order, I understand the order, and I intend to obey/carry out the order). “I understand and will comply.”

Battle Group (BG): group of warships and supply ships centered around a large deck aircraft carrier and that carrier’s airwing; usually consists of one cruiser, one supply ship, and one or two destroyers, frigates, and submarines; recently referred to as a Carrier Strike Group (CSG). Ever heard of a battle flag? During ship exercises, if your ship defeated the Battle Group, it was awarded the honor of flying the battle flag. It was huge!

Battle rattle: body armor and helmet. Except it didn’t quite fit 5’4″ females (or most females really) and at the end of watch your spine was collapsing on itself.

Battle Stations: manning condition involving all hands. Assignments are planned out prior to setting the underway watch and posted in the Watch, Quarter, and Station Bill. Assigned personnel go to their assigned stations to do their assigned task in support of fighting the ship in a battle or when there is a credible threat of attack for which the ship must be prepared to fight against. I went through “Battle Stations” at boot camp and it was exhilarating. A true Battle Stations scenario at sea is terrifying. I wish to never relive it.

Beer Day: on many navy ships, even present day, all hands are given 2 beers if they are underway without a port call for a given period of time — generally 45 days; both beers are opened when they are given to the crew member to prevent them from being hoarded

Bravo Zulu: “BZ” was a signal meaning “Well Done.”; it is sometimes used by seniors praising subordinates. In my lofty opinion, it’s not used enough.

Captain’s Mast: Navy term for non-judicial punishment under Article 15 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice. Depending on the rank of the commanding officer involved, the name of the procedure may change to Admiral’s Mast, OIC’s Mast, etc.; “Mast” for short. Make no mistake. Mast is not something you want your name attached to because it can result in you getting kicked out of the Navy.

Carry on: officer’s reply to a junior person’s call to “attention on deck”, meaning all present rise and come to attention as a sign of respect; “Carry on” allows personnel to continue whatever they were doing; also used in a derogatory form once out of the Navy

Chit: document a sailor fills out to make various types of special request (i.e. for emergency leave, or to move off base to civilian housing)

Chow: food. Sometimes it was good, sometimes it wasn’t. However, I was great friends with one of the CS’s (Culinary Specialists) who qualified me as a “Night Bake” so I could bake with him while underway!

Cleaning Stations: an hour-long field day evolution in which everyone drops what they’re doing and cleans their spaces; see “XO’s Happy Hour.” I have a hilarious story re: XO’s Happy Hour but can only tell it in person.

Cover: term for any sort of headgear worn with a uniform

Fan Room: room with a fan or blower; a “closed” space which is often utilized for general mischief away from watchful eyes

Field Day: all hands clean-up; usually lasts on a good day about 3-4 hours (30 min of cleaning and 2-4 hours of mischief/not working)

Head: bathroom

Killer Tomato: large reddish-orange inflated ball used in gunnery practice at sea

Knee-knockers: passageway opening through a bulkhead – the lower lip of the opening sits at shin height

Ladderwell: stairs

Mandatory Fun: any command sponsored social event that everyone HAS to attend, or get into big trouble. Not fun. I repeat, not fun.

Mess Decks: Chow Hall or eating establishment on board. Where all the fun stuff happened, like Bingo, when underway. Or illicit poker games.

Midnight Ops: best time to get something done when there are not as many witnesses around. A time of dirty dealings. Also when ladies and gentlemen would sneak out of their racks for mischievous acts.

Mid-Rats: short for midnight rations; food served to the midwatch. Punishment for being on the 0000-0400 watch. Mid-rats was not portion controlled so you could eat as much as you wanted!

Mid-Watch: watch from 0000-0400 (2345-0345), usually results in no sleep before or after this watch. Best part: it was only a 4 hour watch vs the usual 6 hours. Unless it was Daylight Savings Time.

P-way: passageway

POD (Plan of the Day): official document issued by a command that states all activities occurring that day, from 0000 to 2359; contains the Uniform of the Day. Also called the Possibilities of the Day or Plan of Deception because the plan can change without notice. To get something in the POD took an act of Congress; it was ridiculous.

Port: left side of the boat or ship (when facing the bow); place of arrival for ships

Port and Starboard: a rotation of two duty sections or watch teams, one designated port and the other starboard; generally not considered to be a good situation. (Usually six hours on duty, six hours off duty – during the six hours off you eat and sleep. The usual cycle is: get up, eat, go on watch, get off watch, eat, go to bed. This results in about four hours of sleep per cycle.)

Port and Report: A watch stood without relief. One designated Port, and the other… there is no other, only Port once again, hence the term re-Port

PRT: Physical Readiness Test; a sailor is required to perform a certain number of situps, pushups, and a 1.5-mile run in a given time (which varies based on age and gender); replaced with the PFA. As a Command Fitness Leader, this was my time to lead/coach/train crewmembers to pass the PFA.

PT: Physical Training; a required exercise regimen

Quarterdeck: ceremonial area of the ship used while in port for either boarding, or disembarking the ship, usually found at the main deck level, mid-ship

Quarters: a gathering of all the people in the organization – Quarters can be for the entire command, or just the department, division, or branch. Quarters is used to present awards, pass information, and make every sailor squeeze into their ill-fitting, rarely-worn uniforms at least once a year. “Quarters” also refers to the daily morning muster for each division, announced as “Quarters…Quarters…All hands to Quarters for muster, instruction, and inspection.” Often held outside on the weather decks when not raining. But even sometimes when it did rain.

Rack: bed

Hard. Heavy. Small.

RAS: (Replenishment At Sea) – the act or process of moving cargo and fuel from a supply ship to a warship via cable while underway I loved RAS’s because, as a Ship-to-Ship Phone talker, I was able to communicate with the supply ship.

Reveille: an announcement over the 1MC at 0600 local time, bugle call, trumpet call or pipes call, most often associated with the military; it is chiefly used to wake military personnel at sunrise Underway, reveille would be music usually decided on by the watch crew which was a great way to wake up!

Roger That: a term of understanding and acceptance when given an order or other information; can be used with varying inflection and tone without consequence to signify enthusiasm or disgruntlement without stepping outside the bounds of professionalism Most often stated in a sarcastic tone.

Scrambled Eggs: gold embroidered decoration on a Commander’s/Captain’s cover 

“scrambled eggs” located on the brim of the cover

Screaming Alpha: a sailor who is on fire and is running around screaming. Alpha fires leave ash. Bravo fires burn flammable liquids. Charlies are electrical fires, and Deltas burn exotic materials, often metals like magnesium. I’ve never seen someone on fire (small favors) but a fire on my ship was the most traumatic event of my Navy career.

Scuttlebutt: (1) a drinking fountain. (2) generally reliable but incomplete information about a subject. (3) a rumor (because rumors are spread when crew members gather around water fountains); this is the only thing in the universe that can travel faster than light

Shipmate: (1) any fellow sailor. (2) (derogatory) any junior enlisted about to get chewed out. Often a term used derogatorily after discharged from the Navy.

Spooks: Navy Cryptologic Technicians or other service equivalents; may also be applied to civilians from three-letter agencies riding a naval vessel. My people!

Stand By: to wait, can also be to foreshadow chastisement or punishment from a superior

Stand by to stand by: waiting to find out why everyone is waiting for something to maybe happen. All too often this was the case!

Starboard: right side of the boat or ship (when facing the bow)

Steel Beach Picnic: celebration on the weather decks of a ship. Usually involving beer and barbecue. Also included music and hitting golf balls off the bow of the ship. As much fun as can be had underway.

A Sailor’s favorite day: Steel Beach Picnic

Swab: mop. You will be expected to swab the deck while it rains. Makes good sense, right?

TAPS: announced over the 1MC at 2200 local time, “Taps, Taps…lights out, all hands turn into your bunks, maintain silence about the decks.” “Taps” is a musical piece sounded at dusk, and at funerals, particularly by the U.S. military – it is sounded during flag ceremonies and funerals, generally on bugle or trumpet

UNREP: (Underway Replenishment): the taking of supplies from a supply ship by maneuvering alongside it and passing lines between it and one’s own vessel. A dangerous procedure, often completed in the dark. I know right.

VBSS: (Visit, Board, Search, Seizure): Maritime boarding actions and tactics. I was invited to join the VBSS team because I was fit and relatively easy to get along with (I’m assuming). A joint decision was made to remove the offer when I explained my fear of heights. Another great story to be told in person.

Very well: expression of acknowledgement a senior gives a subordinate. Again, usually inflected with sarcasm.

Watch: a period of duty, usually of four-hours duration, six-hours on submarines. The day at sea has long been divided into watches, which are called: Midwatch or Balls to 4 (0000 to 0400); morning or rev (reveille) watch (0400 to 0800); forenoon watch (0800 to 1200); afternoon watch (1200 to 1600); dog watches (1600-1800 and 1800-2000); and the first watch (2000 to 2400). Oh, watch, a necessary evil with the wrong group, but much fun with the right people.

Standing Watch (Old School)

Working Party: when there is loading of supplies, the Quarterdeck will call for a “working party” to be manned by each division of the ship, the number depending on the task. People were always “skating” out of working parties, especially when it involved cleaning the heads in berthing or some sort of flooding/water on deck situation.

XO’s Happy Hour: a daily, hour-long mandatory cleaning evolution; usually introduced by the XO on the 1MC. Another great story for this!

Zone inspection: a formal inspection of spaces conducted by a team headed by the XO. There was nothing fun about zone inspections because it usually involved someone not in your division and not familiar with any of your spaces telling you how to clean/organize/do something better.


I ask you –

Any service members in your family? Yourself?

Do you know any military lingo no longer used?

What’s your favorite definition listed above?

2 thoughts on “United States Navy Lingo + Relevance

  1. For understandable reasons this is pretty much “G-Rated”. The phrase “curse like a Sailor” exists for very good reason: We are known to make the air fairly crackle with curses and to melt the paint of a bulkhead with language not welcome anywhere else.

    One of my favorites is not on your list: CASREP (pronounces Caz-rep’) . A portmanteau of “casualty report”, which is submitted up the chain-of-command when equipment is in need or repair e.g. “I had to write a CASREP for the gun radar.” The term can also be applied to personnel, as in “Bill can’t PT today. He’s been CASREP’d.” Similar is the old and now rarely used term “OOC” (always pronounced Oh-Oh-Cee) for Out of Commission.

    This is my 32nd year ether in or serving the Navy, and I wish I could go back and do it all over again,

    Liked by 1 person

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