Marine Speak

The United States has a military unlike any other. Specifically, we are fortunate enough to have a maritime tour de force. As such, the Marine Corps and Navy often times operate hand in hand. Consequently, one of the many things that we use in conjunction with the Navy is their terminology.

Marine Speak

Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus speaks to a classroom of Marine Corps officers at The Basic School about the future of the Marine Corps during his visit to Marine Corps Base Quantico, Virginia, January 27, 2016.
—(USMC photo by Sergeant Cuong Le).

The Marine Corps has a rich and proud tradition. The countless battle streamers earned by each individual unit is a testament to this fact. There are many things that the Marines do that set them apart from the other branches of service. However, the Marine Corps has always had a long standing history with the U.S. Navy. This is to be expected, considering that the Marine Corps falls under the Department of the Navy. The United States has a military unlike any other. Specifically, we are fortunate enough to have a maritime tour de force. As such, the Marine Corps and Navy often times operate hand in hand. Consequently, one of the many things that we use in conjunction with the Navy is their terminology.

Much of the language that you might hear a Marine use is based upon terms you'd associate with a ship. For example, even when on land, Marines refer to a wall as a bulkhead. While some of the usage has undoubtedly faded away over the course of time, this tradition is still quite prevalent in boot camp. Recruits refer to windows as portholes, acknowledge orders with an "aye aye", and refer to the restroom as the "head" among other things. So why exactly do Marines use this terminology? As previously mentioned, much of it has to do with tradition. However, commonality while on ship is another big factor. While recent conflicts have taken away much of the need for Marines to utilize ships, there is always a Marine unit on rotation with a Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU). A MEU is simply a quick reactionary force stationed aboard ship that can quickly respond to a crisis. As such, it's important for Marines to understand the language spoken aboard ship.

While language is always changing in the civilian world, the basic tenants of naval terminology seldom change. This can be comforting, considering that Marines and sailors of different generations are linked not only by their service, but by their words. Marines will speak the same language regardless of whether they fought in World War II, Vietnam, or a conflict yet to occur.

ABOARD: On base; with us.

ACTUAL: Radio talk for unit commander.

AH-1G, AH-IJ: The armed version of the UH-1 helicopter. The initial Marine AH-1s were Army G models modified only with Navy compatible radios, Marine green paint and a rotor brake for shipboard operations. Later Marine models such as the AH-1J were specifically designed for Marine aviation requirements and were twin-engined.

ALL HANDS: All members of a command. Everyone.

AMTRACK: Amphibious tractor; landing craft.

AO: Arial Observer - usually assigned to fly in second seat for Aerial Observation - primarily assigned from infantry, artillery, or intelligence billets.

AO: Area of operations, similar in definition to TAOR discussed below.

AO DAI: (Viet.) Formal attire worn by Vietnamese women.

ARVN: Army of the Republic of Viet Nam.

ASHORE: Any place outside of a naval or Marine Corps installation

AS YOU WERE: Resume former activity

ASSHOLES AND ELBOWS: In a hurry; quickly.

AYE-AYE: An acknowledgement of orders. This means that an individual understands and will comply with orders. Different than simply saying yes

BA MUI BA ("33"): Vietnamese beer.

BAC SI (Viet.): Doctor, used for Corpsman.

BAM: Broad Ass Marine; Derogatory name for Woman Marine.

BARRACKS COVER: Garrison (frame) cap.

BATTLE PIN: Necktie clip.

BCD: Bad Conduct Discharge.

BDA: Bomb Damage Assessment - given to fixed wing pilot by airborne AO at end of air to ground support mission.

BDE: The abbreviation for a US Army brigade.

BELAY: To make fast or secure, as in "belay the line"

BELAY THAT: Cancel or disregard the previous statement or order

BILLET: Assignment or job; place of residence.

BIRD: Aircraft. BLOUSE: n. jacket; v. tuck in, secure.

BIVOUAC: A camp in the field

BLOUSING BANDS: Elastic bands used to secure utility trouser cuffs.

BLT: Battalion Landing Team, a US Marine infantry battalion specifically task organized and equipped to conduct amphibious or helicopter-borne landings from the sea.

BLUES: Dress Blues.

BOO-COO: (Fr. beaucoup) Much, many.

BOONDOCKS (BOONIES): Rugged, isolated back country.

BOONDOCKERS: Low-topped work boots issued to reservists.

BOOT: A brand new Marine, or "Boot Mistake" is like saying a "Rookie Mistake"

BOW:Front of the ship

BRAIN HOUSING GROUP: Your gourd, mind, brain, or head.

BRASS: Officers.

BREAKOUT: Take out of stock or storage. Prepare for use

BRIG: A place of confinement. A prison

BRIG RAT: Jail inmate.

BRIG CHASER: MP assigned to escort prisoners.

BROTHER: Black Marine (also Splib).

BROWN-BAGGER: A married Marine

BROWN SIDE-OUT: Desert camouflage pattern.


BUTTERBAR: A second Lieutenant. Refers to the gold rank insignia

BY-THE-NUMBERS: In sequence.

C-RATS: C-rations, canned field rations.

CC: Corrective Custody; jail, the brig.

CG: Commanding General.

CANNON COCKERS: Artillerymen.

CARRY ON!: Resume what you were doing; as you were.

CASUAL COMPANY: Unit of Marines awaiting reassignment.

CH-34A, CH-34 D: Powered by a single reciprocating engine, this helicopter was the workhorse during the early years of the Vietnam era. It was used to ferry troops, deliver supplies and for medevac operations. It was commonly referred to as the "dog".

CH-37C: Powered with twin reciprocating engines, this heavy helicopter operated on a limited basis in the early years of the war, mainly for the retrieval of downed aircraft.

CH-46A, CH-46D: A twin gas turbine powered medium helicopter that replaced the UH-34D for troop and cargo lift, medevac, and other assigned missions.

CH-53A, CH-53D: A twin gas turbine powered heavy helicopter that replaced the CH-37C for the retrieval of downed aircraft, as well as the movement of heavy and large items of equipment such as trucks and artillery. The CH-53D was the improved version with more powerful engines.

CHARLEY RIDGE: A prominent ridge of mountainous terrain approximately 20 miles southwest of Da Nang that afforded the Viet Cong, also known as "Charley," a route from Laos into the Da Nang area. It was the site of many Marine operations aimed at disrupting Charley's movement of men and supplies.

CHIEU HOI: (Viet.) Freedom; safe conduct pass; program whereby VC who surrendered were assured safe conduct.

CHINOOK: The generic name or nickname of the US Army's CH-47 heavy helicopter.

CHIT: Written authorization or receipt.

CHOW: Food.

CHOW HALL: Mess hall.

CHUCK: Black Marine's term for white Marine.

CIDG: Civil Indigenous Defense Group, a paramilitary, militia-type unit made up of local Vietnamese who participated in the defense of their own village or hamlet.

CINDERELLA LIBERTY: Time off which ends at midnight.

CLICK: One notch of adjustment on a rifle.

CO: (Viet.) girl, woman.

COLD-COCK: To hit someone

COLORS: (noun) The flag. (verb) Ceremony of raising or lowering the flag.

COM-RATS: Commuted rations; in lieu pay for meals eaten off base.

CON-BIET? (Viet) Do you understand?

CONUS: Continental United States

CORPSMAN: Navy medic serving with Marines.


COVER ASS: Take precautions to avoid blame.

CP: Command Post, the location from which the CO commanded his unit. This could range from an extensive permanent building complex to a hole in the ground.

THE CROTCH: Derogatory term for Marine Corps.

CRUISE: Period of enlistment; tour of duty.

D/CS: Deputy Chief of Staff. The staff officer responsible for a specific function such as D/CS AIR (Aviation) at Headquarters, US Marine Corps, responsible for all aviation matters.

DECK: Floor.

DET: Abbreviation for detachment, usually a parent organization's smaller detached unit capable of self-sustained operations. For example, DET, HMH-463 would indicate a small number (4-6) of CH-53 helicopters operating independently of the parent unit, HMH-463.

DEUCE-AND-A-HALF: 2 1/2 ton truck.

DI-DI: (Viet.) Leave, go, move out.

DI-DI MAU: (Viet.) Emphatic of Di-di.

DIDDY BAG: Cloth, drawstring bag for small items.

DIDDY BOP: Swagger; affected walk.

DINKY-DAU: (Viet) Crazy.

DMZ: The Demilitarized Zone separating North and South Viet Nam that was established by the United Nations at the time French IndoChina was partitioned into the two countries. It was generally ignored by both sides during the war.

DOG-AND-PONY-SHOW: Special presentation put on for visiting dignitaries.

DOUBLE TIME: Quickly, at a run.

DRY FIRE: Practice.

DRY RUN: Practice.

DU-DIT!: (Viet)Fuck you!

EAGLE FLIGHT: (also PACIFIER, KINGFISHER, SPARROWHAWK) A package of aircraft, on either ground or airborne alert, designated to respond to emergency situations or targets of opportunity by either inserting ground units or attacking by fire or both. The group usually consisted of a command helicopter, troop lift helicopters and attack helicopters. In some instances, fixed wing attack aircraft were also added to the package.

EIGHTH & I: Marine Corps Barracks Washington, D.C.

ENTRENCHING TOOL (E-TOOL): Small folding field shovel.

EVERY SWINGING DICK: All hands, everyone.

EYE FUCK: Scrutinize; inspect closely.

FAC: Forward Air Controller - usually a pilot assigned to a ground unit for air-to-ground liaison between aviation and ground units.

FARTSACK: Mattress cover.

FIELD DAY: General cleanup of barracks.


FIELD STRIP: Disassemble; take apart.

FIRE IN THE HOLE!: Warning that explosives are about to be detonated.

FIRST SHIRT (ALSO TOP): First Sergeant.

FLOAT PHASE: Sea deployment of a Marine unit.

FMF: Fleet Marine Force.

FOUR-BY: Light truck.

FRONT LEANING REST POSITION: Pushup position ("the Position").

GALLEY: Kitchen.

GANG WAY!: Stand back! Move away!

GEAR: Equipment.

GEDUNK: Sweets or a store that sells sweets.

GI CAN: Garbage can.

GIZMO: Gadget. Anything that defies discription.

GO-FASTERS: Typically denote tennis shoes, aptly named considering they help individuals run faster than normal boots

GOURD: Head. Where you hang your cover.

GRAB A HAT: Leave.

GREEN SIDE-OUT: Woodland pattern camouflage.

GRINDER: Parade ground.

GUIDON: Pennant bearing unit designation.

GUNG HO: Work together, highly motivated.

GUNGY: Gung-ho.

GUNNY: Gunnery Sergeant.

GRABASS (ORGANIZED GRABASS): Sports, frivolous activity.

GREEN MACHINE: Marine Corps.

GUARD Channel: The universal radio channel monitored by all aircraft on which emergency transmissions and requests for assistance are made.

H&MS: Headquarters and Maintenance Squadron, a unit of a Marine Aircraft Group that performs both administrative functions and intermediate level aircraft maintenance. In some cases, an H&MS would operate small numbers of specialized aircraft, such as the CH-37C from 1965-1967.

HAM: Hairy Assed Marine. Male Marine.

HAM AND MOTHERS: "Ham and Motherfuckers." Generally detested C-ration meal posing as ham and lima beans.

HARDHAT: An acronym for the aircrew member's protective helmet.

HATCH: Door.

HARD CHARGER: Motivated Marine.

HEAD: Toilet.

HIGH-AND-TIGHT: Standard Marine haircut. Shaved sides and short on top.

HIGH-SPEED, LOW-DRAG: This term typically means something is new or cool

Hill 55: (and others such as Hill 845 etc) A means of identifying hill formations on the metric maps used in Viet Nam. The numbers indicating the height above sea level in meters of the highest point of that particular formation.

HMH: Marine Heavy Helicopter Squadron, the first H means helicopter; the M means Marine; the second H means heavy.

HML: Marine Light Helicopter Squadron, the first H means helicopter; the M means Marine; the L means light.

HMM: Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron, the first H means helicopter; the M means Marine; the M means medium. (NOTE) The three numbers following these letters usually identified the original parent Marine Aircraft Group and the sequence in which the squadron was first commissioned. HMM-161 was the first squadron commissioned in MAG-16. HML-367 was the seventh squadron commissioned in MAG-36. There were exceptions. HMH-463 was not the third squadron commissioned in MAG-46. MAG-46 did not exist in the active force structure. it was then and still is a Marine Reserve Aircraft Group. As a wartime expedient both HMH-462 and HMH-463 were commissioned in other aircraft groups and, when operational, were transferred to MAG-36 and MAG-16 respectively.

HOLLYWOOD MARINE: San Diego MCRD graduate.

HONCHO: Boss. Man in charge.

HOOCH: Any kind of shelter, residence.

HOUSE MOUSE: Drill Instructor's go-fer.

HUMP: To march, to carry, to be burdened with.

HUSS: A favor, a break. e.g., "gimme a huss." Also, archaic name for HU34D helicopter.

I CORPS: Viet Nam was divided into 4 geographical areas known as Corps in order to delineate responsibility for the military operations therein. From north to south they were I Corps, II Corps, III Corps and IV Corps. Early in the war, The US Marines were designated responsible for I Corps, which extended from the DMZ in the north and included the provinces of Quang Tri, Thua Thien, Quang Nam, Quang Tin and Quang Ngai Province in the south.

IFR: Instrument Flight Rules, a condition during which a pilot is flying in the clouds on instruments, and without reference to either the natural horizon or the ground.

INCOMING!: Hostile fire being received!

IRISH PENNANT: String dangling from clothing indicating unkempt appearance.

ITR: Infantry Training Regiment.

JARHEAD: Marine.

JIBS: Teeth, esp. front incisors, e.g., "I'll bust your jibs."

JING: Change, money.

JOE SHIT THE RAGMAN: Bad example. An un-squared-away Marine. Boyfriend of Rosy Rottencrotch.

JUNK-ON-THE-BUNK: Complete clothing and equipment inspection (also Things-on-the-Springs) laid out on the rack.

K-BAR: Marine-issued fighting knife.

KIA: Killed In Action.

KLICK: Kilometer.


LAI DAY: (Viet.) Come here!

LEAVE: Authorized absence of more than 24 hours.

LIBERTY: Authorized absence of less than 24 hours.

LOCK AND LOAD: Arm and ready your weapon; get ready!

LPD: Landing Platform Dock, a Navy amphibious ship, capable of supporting and operating a small number of helicopters for an extended period of time. Usually, 4 to 6 on board with 2 being operated simultaneously.

LPH: Landing Platform Helicopter, a Navy amphibious ship, capable of supporting and operating a squadron of helicopters for an extended period of time, and capable of transporting and off-loading a battalion of Marines at the same time.

LZ: Landing Zone, an unimproved site where helicopters landed in the performance of their assigned mission.

M-60: The standard light machine gun of US Marines in Viet Nam, in both ground and aviation units. In helicopter squadrons, M-60s were mounted in fixed forward firing positions on UH-lE gunships, and on flexible pintle mounts in the UH-1E side doors as well. They were also employed in the door or windows of transport helicopters (UH-34, CH-46, CH-53).

MAB: Marine Amphibious Brigade, a temporary headquarters superimposed over such amphibious units as a Regimental Landing Team and a Provisional Marine Aircraft Group. The MAB was identical in mission and structure to the Marine Expeditionary Brigade (MEB.)

MABS: Marine Airbase Squadron, the housekeeping unit of a MAG.

MACV: Military Assistance Command Viet Nam, the senior US headquarter charged with overall responsibility for conduct of the war.

MAG: Marine Aircraft Group, the unit immediately superior to aircraft squadrons, A helicopter MAG typically would have the following squadrons: 3 HMMs, I HML, I HMH, 1 H&MS, and I MABS attached.

MAGGIE'S DRAWERS: Red disc used on the rifle range to signify missing the target.

MAKE A HOLE!: Stand back! Gang-way!

MEB: Marine Expeditionary Brigade, identical to the MAB discussed above.

MEDEVAC: Medical evacuation, the term generally used to identify the mission of Marine helicopters involved in rescuing wounded, injured, and sick personnel.

MMAF: Marble Mountain Air Facility, the home of MAG-16 from August, 1965 until May, 1971, located east of the Da Nang Air Base, on the beach, between China Beach and the Marble Mountains.

MOS: Military Occupational Specialty - four digit code for a specific job type.

MSO: A US Navy wood-hulled mine sweeper

MUSTANG (Mustanger): Enlisted man who becomes an officer.

MUV: Marine Unit Vietnam, the temporary identification of Marine helicopter squadrons operating from Da Nang Air Base in 1965 prior to the arrival in country of MAG-16.

NON-QUAL: Marine who fails to fire a qualifying score at the rifle range.

NSA: Naval Support Activity, a US Navy organization responsible for various support functions in the Da Nang area, such as port facilities, fuel storage areas, and hospitals, i.e., the NSA Hospital.

NVA: North Vietnamese Army.

NW: Northwest

0-1, 0-IC: A light single engine observation aircraft used for forward air control, artillery spotting and general reconnaissance, from 1962 to 1969.

OFFICE HOURS: Summary court marshall, official inquiry or reprimand.

OFFICE POGUE: Desk-bound Marine.

ONTOS: Armored tracked vehicle mounting six 106 mm recoiless rifles.

OUTSTANDING!: Exceptional, well done!

OV-IOA: A twin turboprop, twin boom observation aircraft that replaced the 0-1s in 1968. It had significantly greater performance and carried a larger payload.

OVERHEAD: Ceiling.

OVER THE HILL: Absent without authorization.

OVER THE HUMP: More than halfway through enlistment.

PASSAGEWAY: Corridor, hallway.

PIECE: Rifle.

PISS-AND-PUNK: Bread and water punishment.

PISS CUTTER: Envelope-shaped overseas cap.

PISS TUBE: Field urinal or rocket launcher (bazooka), which resembles one.

POGEY BAIT: Candy, sweets.

POGUE: Lazy individual, also office worker.

POLICE CALL: Time allocated to clean up an area.

POLICE UP: Clean up.

POOP/DOPE/SCOOP: Information.

POP-FLARE: Hand-held, launched aireal illumination flare.

POW: Prisoner of War.

PROVMAG: Provisional Marine Aircraft Group, a temporary group organized for a limited period of time to meet a specific tactical or operational need.

PT: Physical Training/exercise.

QEC: Quick Engine Change, an expedient procedure developed to quickly change the engine of a downed helicopter in the field.

QUARTERDECK: Technically an upper deck on a ship that is used by officers; specifically for ceremonial use. This term is used to signify an area of a squad bay where recruits undergo IT (incentive training)

QUARTERS: Living space.

RACK: Bed, bunk.

RAPPEL: Descend from cliff or helicopter by rope.

RECON/FORCE RECON: Force Reconnaissance Marine.

ROMP 'N' STOMP: To drill, march.

ROUND: Bullet or artillery or mortar shell.

RPG: Rocket Propelled Grenade, an enemy grenade fired from a device utilizing a small rocket propellant charge, greatly increasing its normal range.

RLT: Regimental Landing Team, a US Marine infantry regiment specifically task organized and equipped to conduct amphibious or helicopter-borne landings from the sea.

RUBBER LADY: Inflatable air mattress.

RVN: Republic of Viet Nam.

SAR: Search and Rescue, the mission assigned to either dedicated aviation units or other available aviation units related to locating and extracting downed aircrews and other personnel. The term CSAR identified Combat Search and Rescue units of the Air Force and Navy who were specifically trained and equipped to operate in heavily defended North Vietnamese airspace to conduct SAR missions.

SAR NORTH: The SAR mission north of the DMZ assigned in the early years of the war to Marine HMM squadrons, prior to the assignment of the specific CSAR units discussed above.

SALT: Experience. An old-time Marine.

SALTY: Smart-mouthed, opinionated.

SCOSHI/SCOSH: Small, short, a little bit.

SCUTTLEBUTT:Can either mean a water fountain or the "rumor mill", etymology most likely comes from rumors beginning around water coolers.

SEABAG: Duffle bag.

SEA DUTY: Billited aboard a ship.

SEA GOING BELLHOP: Derogatory term for Marine, from Marines assigned to the bridge of a vessel.

SEA STORY: A lie or an exaggeration.

SEA LAWYER: Self-appointed expert.

SECURE: Tie down or make fast; also to recycle or dispose of; to put something in its proper place; to desist.

SEVEN-EIGHTY-TWO GEAR: Field equipment; canvas web gear.

SHIT BIRD: Messy or undisciplined; a fuck up.

SHIT CAN: (verb) To dispose of. (noun) Garbage can.

SHORT: Nearing the end of a tour of duty or enlistment.

SHORT ROUND: Ordnance which is landing short of the intended target.

SHORT TIME: A very brief love affair.

SHORTTIMER: Marine nearing the end of an enlistment period.

SHU-FLY: The name coined for the initial introduction of USMC helicopters into Viet Nam in 1962.

SICK BAY: Clinic or hospital.

SIX-BY/SIX-BY-SIX: Standard three-axle truck.

SIX-SIX-AND-A-KICK: The ultimate General court marshall punishment consisting of six months forfeiture of pay, six months hard labor, and a dishonorable discharge.

SKIPPER: Captain/commanding officer.

SKIVVIES: Underwear.

SKIVVIE HONCHO: A lothario, a ladies man.


SLF: Special Landing Force, the designation of the USMC BLT and HMM squadron assigned to the Seventh Fleet Amphibious Ready Group. The SLF regularly conducted amphibious operations across Vietnamese beaches into areas of suspected VC and NVA activity.

SLOPCHUTE: Diner, Restaurant.

SMOKING LAMP: Authority to smoke when it is lit.

SNAP IN: Practice, especially on the rifle range.

SNOOPIN' AND POOPIN': Reconnoitering.


SOUND OFF!: Assertively voice.

SORRY 'BOUT THAT!: Assertion of mock apology.


SQUAD BAY: Barracks.

SQUARED AWAY: Neat, orderly, organized.

SQUID: (derogatory) Sailor.

STACK ARMS!: Command given to place 3 rifles in a pyramid.

STACKING SWIVEL: Appendage near muzzle of rifle allowing stacked arms; neck.

STAND BY!: Prepare.

STANDBY: Waiting status.

STARCHIES: Starched utilities.

STROKE BOOK: Porno magazine.

SURVEY: Dispose of, recycle.

SW: Southwest.

SWAB: Mop.

SWABBIE: Sailor.

TAC(A): Tactical Air Controller (Airborne) - either a qualified pilot or a qualified Aerial Observer who is responsible for the safe conduct of air-to-ground strikes, artillery strikes or naval gunfire missions.

TAOR: Tactical Area of Responsibility, the geographical area assigned to a military unit having responsibility for all operations therein, i.e., the First Marine Division's TAOR was the city of Da Nang and surrounding areas defined by specific features such as rivers, roads etc.

TF: Task Force, a unit temporarily organized to carry out a specific short term mission.

TI TI: (Viet.) Little, small.

TOP: Sergeant Major.

TOPSIDE: Upstairs, on deck.

TROPS: Khaki tropical summer dress uniform.

TURN TO: Begin work.

UH-1, UH-IB, UH-1E: The "Huey" was the standard US Army troop carrying helicopter in Viet Nam. The Marine version, the UH-1E was able to operate from shipboard. It performed command and control, liaison, observation, gunship, and medevac missions.

UA: Unauthorized Absence, both a disciplinary term, and an acronym for anything or person not in the place it is expected to be.

UD: Undesireable Discharge.

UH-34D: The standard USMC medium helicopter at the beginning of the war. It served in Viet Nam from April, 1962 until August, 1969.

UTILITIES: Olive drab field uniform.

UTT: Utility Tactical Transport, the name of the Army's UH-1B gunship unit early in the war when the helicopter gunship was still in an experimental state.

VC: Viet Cong, or Charley, the original enemy in South Viet Nam.

VMO: Marine Observation Squadron, the V means fixed wing; the M means Marine; the 0 means observation.

VNAF: Vietnamese Air Force.

WIA: Wounded in Action.

WILLIE PETER: White Phosphorus.

THE WORD: Confirmed official information, the straight scoop.

XO: Executive Officer, the second in command of a unit.

ZERO-DARK-THIRTY: Pre-dawn. Early.

ZERO/ZERO: Zero ceiling, zero forward visibility, as in IFR flight conditions.

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