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.

Some of these terms are labeled can be considered derogatory. Marines may good-naturedly refer to one another with "name-calling" but it's not necessarily okay for us as civilian parents to use that terminology with our Marine, or use it for "name-calling" other Marines. So, remember this is your Marine's journey, not yours, and keep the "name-calling" terminology where it belongs...among Marines.

ABOARD: On base; with us.

ACTUAL: Radio talk for unit commander.

ADVANCE PARTY: The Advance Party is generally a small number of Marines from the deploying unit that arrive "in country" before the majority of the battalion. The Advance Party prepares for the arrival for the rest of the battalion.

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.

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

AS YOU WERE: Resume former activity

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

BARRACKS COVER: Garrison (frame) cap.

BCD: Bad Conduct Discharge.

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

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.

BIVOUAC: A camp in the field

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.

BOOT: A brand new Marine, or "Boot Mistake" is like saying a "Rookie Mistake". (can be considered derogatory; a jab used among Marines)

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

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 CHASER: Marine assigned to escort prisoners.

BROWN-BAGGER: A married Marine

BROWN SIDE-OUT: Desert camouflage pattern.


BUTTERBAR: A second Lieutenant. Refers to the gold rank insignia (can be considered derogatory).

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.

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.

CHIT: Written authorization or receipt.

CHOW: Food.

CHOW HALL: Mess hall.

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

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

CONUS: Continental United States

CORPSMAN: Navy medic serving with Marines.


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.

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.

DEPLOYMENT: Temporarily moved from the permanent duty station, generally to an overseas location or on a ship.

DEVIL DOG: Nickname for a Marine stemming from WW I. (can be considered derogatory with current Marines to condemn an action by a fellow Marine, "Why'd you do that, Devil Dog?")

DIDDY BAG: Cloth, drawstring bag for small items.

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.

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.

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

FIELD DAY: General cleanup of barracks.


FIELD STRIP: Disassemble; take apart.

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

FLOAT PHASE: Sea deployment of a Marine unit.

FMF: Fleet Marine Force.

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

GALLEY: Kitchen.

GANG WAY!: Stand back! Move away!

GEAR: Equipment.

GIZMO: Gadget. Anything that defies description.

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

GREEN SIDE-OUT: Woodland pattern camouflage.

GRINDER: Parade ground.

GUIDON: Pennant bearing unit designation.

GUNG HO: Work together, highly motivated.

GUNNY: Gunnery Sergeant.

GREEN MACHINE: Marine Corps.

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

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

HATCH: Door.

HARD CHARGER: Motivated Marine.

HEAD: Bathroom.

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

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. (can be considered derogatory; a jab used among fellow Marines)

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.

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!

IN COUNTRY: Used to refer to a Marine who is deployed. To say the Marine is "In Country" typically means that he or she is not in the United States. "In Country" can refer to any location other than the United States, whether a combat zone or not.

IRISH PENNANT: String dangling from clothing indicating unkempt appearance.

JARHEAD: Marine.

JODY: Refers to the man with whom a serviceman's wife/girlfriend cheats while he is deployed (not strictly a Marine Corps term).

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

JING: Change, money.

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.


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.

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.)

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.

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.

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

MOON FLOSS: Toilet Paper

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

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.

NW: Northwest

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

OFFICE POG: Desk-bound Marine.

OVERHEAD: Ceiling.

OVER THE HUMP: More than halfway through enlistment.

PASSAGEWAY: Corridor, hallway.

PDS: Permanent Duty Station; The Rear Party is generally a small number of Marines that stay "in country" for a longer period of time than the majority of the battalion. The Rear Party functions as the element to finalize the location after the battalion departs.

POG: Personnel Other than Grunt (pronounced with a long "o"; can be considered derogatory).

POLICE CALL: Time allocated to clean up an area.

POP-FLARE: Hand-held, launched airial 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.

RBE: Remain Behind Element, is a small number of Marines from the deployed unit that stay at the permanent duty station during deployment. The RBE functions include communications with family members and maintaining the unit's affairs at its main base.

REAR PARTY: The Rear Party is generally a small number of Marines that stay "in country" for a longer period of time than the majority of the battalion. The Rear Party functions as the element to finalize the location after the battalion departs.

RECON/FORCE RECON: Force Reconnaissance Marine.

RIVER CITY: A slang term used by Marines to refer to a situation when the unit's communication systems are temporarily shut down. This could occur to preserve operations security before a maneuver or if a unit sustains casualties to ensure family members are notified through the proper channels.

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.

SALT: Experience. An old-time Marine.

SALTY: Smart-mouthed, opinionated.

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.

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.

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

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

SHORTTIMER: Marine nearing the end of an enlistment period.

SICK BAY: Clinic or hospital.

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

SKIPPER: Captain/commanding officer.

SKIVVIES: Underwear, or Running Shorts & Shirt

SNAP IN: Practice, especially on the rifle range.


SOUND OFF!: Assertively voice.


SQUAD BAY: Barracks.

SQUARED AWAY: Neat, orderly, organized.

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; Waiting status

SURVEY: Dispose of, recycle.

SUZIE: Girl back home (can be considered derogatory).

SW: Southwest.

SWAB: Mop.

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.

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

TOPSIDE: Upstairs, on deck.

TURN TO: Begin work.

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

UTILITIES: Cammies or camouflage utilities.

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

WATER BOWL: Public Water Location.

WIA: Wounded in Action.

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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