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A Brief History of Military Slang

by Mike 'Danger' Sampsell March 18, 2017

“The only thing new in the world is the history you don’t know.”

President Harry Truman said that and I’m inclined to agree with him. I feel as Veterans we have a greater interest in the past than most others. From the moment we arrive to our first duty station, one of the things we are given is a booklet (or several booklets) that details our unit’s history. We’re told to read it and know it just as well as we know how to field strip a rifle. Unit history gives us a detailed look into the past and a relatively micro one at that. For example, my first unit was A-Troop 1st Squadron, 4th US Cavalry of the 1st Infantry Division. The 1st Infantry Division is the oldest, actively-serving, and most storied Division in the United States Army. Literally forged on the battlefields of western Europe during WWI, the “Big Red One” has served our nation, without pause since 1917. 1-4 Cav has done the same albeit since 1855. Just those facts alone instill a pride in anyone who wears that Shoulder Patch or pins on that Distinctive Unit Insignia. Those things are a bridge to the past and you are now someone whose purpose is to honor that lineage by adding to it; to keep it alive and relevant. That brings me to the point of this article… Keeping Military Slang of the Past Alive and Relevant in Contemporary Society

We all know that slang is an intricate and often relished part of military life. It’s a language all its own and generally known only to a select group of people. Slang is also quite timeless. In 490 BC, a Greek runner named Pheidippides was in Marathon and witnessed the victorious defeat of the Persians. However, his elation at having just seen the invaders thrown back into the sea must have been short-lived as he saw his commander approaching him. Pheidippides knew that someone was going to have to inform Athens of the victory. He also knew that meant running the 26.2 miles from Marathon (Look at that...more history!) to Athens to accomplish that mission. He also knew that he ran fast and had therefore likely drawn the short stick. I’m fairly certain that having deduced all of that, he muttered *BOHICA, or a derivative of, as soon as his commander made eye contact.

*BOHICA: "Bend Over, Here It Comes Again." First recorded usage was during the Vietnam War.

It is my hope that upon viewing the following list of military slang that spans from the Revolutionary War to WWII, we can bring some of these back into common usage both in the military and in the civilian world. It’s not at all impossible; look at how common the phrase “That’s on point” is on both sides of the fence. I will include examples of sentences to help you out.

The Revolutionary War

Inkfiblog military slang revolutionary war 'more peas!' 'Damn Yankees'

Yankee Peas - A British Army term meaning buckshot. American Militia would often load their muskets with a few buckshot in addition to the standard musket ball in order to inflict more casualties at close range.

Ex: “I used Yankee Peas in my shotgun to defend my home against an intruder and now I have to go to Home Depot and buy new drywall.

Grab - To loot a civilian house while the homeowner is present.

Ex: “Your Honor, ‘home invasion’ is such an ugly term. I would argue that my client was merely performing a ‘grab’ as a project for his history class.”

Lob - To loot a civilian house when the homeowner is not present.

Ex: “C’mon, Your least it wasn't a ‘grab.’”

The Civil War

inkfiblog military slang civil war painting guy on horse yelling 'nokum stiff is this way you wallpapered sumbitches'

Bread Basket - Stomach.

Ex: “That Jalapeno Cheese Spread is a bit rough on the bread basket today.”

Pepperbox - Pistol.

Ex: “Anyone seen my pepperbox? All I can find is the lanyard.”

Grab a Root - To have dinner.

Ex: “Hey, busy Friday? Wanna grab a root?”

       Girl: “No.”

Nokum Stiff - Liquor. This requires no example as it’s just fun to say.

Wallpapered - Drunk.

Ex: “That Nokum Stiff done got him wallpapered.”

Quick-Step - Diarrhea.

Ex: “Seriously, boys...that cheese spread is not sitting right at all. I think I’m about to have a quick-step situation over here.”

World War I

Inkfiblog military slang world war 1 guy holding helmet up on rifle 'once i get them to spike-boozle this damn helmet, I won't have to wear it anymore'

Pogey Bait - Candy or snacks of any kind carried by American and Canadian Soldiers. This one is still in common usage among today's troops and I found it interesting to learn how far back it went.

Iron Rations - This expression was actually used as early as the 1860s to describe a Soldier’s emergency food rations. However, during WWI it came to be used as a nickname for shrapnel or artillery fire.

Ex: “Smitty took some Iron Rations right into his bread basket.”

Flap - To be worried.

Ex: “I’m really in a flap over this quick-step situation.”

Spike-Boozled - To completely destroy something.

Ex: “Seriously, fellas...I might spike-boozle the latrine if and when I make it.”

Dekko - To take a look at something.

Ex: “You want to go have a dekko at the latrine damage?”

World War II

Inkfiblog military slang ww2 general mcarthur holding binoculars 'once they finish their battle breakfast we'll just dump them all right on to that beach there and leave'

Army Banjo - Shovel.

Ex: “Until the dream of the self-filling sandbags is realized, you’re going to need that Army Banjo.”

Awkward Squad - Men who require extra instruction in tactics and skills.

Ex: “The Awkward Squad is repeating the Land Navigation course...again.”

Bath Tub - Motorcycle Sidecar.

Ex: “Hop in the Bath Tub, dude...we gotta go find that damn Awkward Squad...again.”

Battle Breakfast - Navy term referring to the heavy breakfast of steak and eggs commonly given to Marines and Soldiers on the morning of an amphibious landing operation.

Ex: “Hey, look...Battle Breakfast! We’re as good as dead.”

Bayonet Course - Hospital treatment for venereal diseases. “Bayonet” refers to the male sex organ.

Ex: “After a long night of passionate love-making to a self-proclaimed virgin, Tim found himself with a ‘burning’ desire to run the Bayonet Course.”

Blanket Drill - Nap.

Ex: “I don’t know how I got it, Doc...I swear I woke up from a Blanket Drill and it was just BURNING.”

Bottled Sunshine - Beer. This one just makes perfect sense to me.

Chatterbox - Machine Gun.

Ex: “Get that damn Chatterbox away from the Awkward Squad...again.”

Chicken Berry - Egg.

Ex: “Why are these Chicken Berries green?”

Collision Mats - Pancakes or waffles.

Ex: “Heading over to IHOP for some Collision Mats; who’s with me?”

Garbage Catcher - Mess tray with depressions into which food is served.

Ex: “Grab a Garbage Catcher and get some Chicken Berries and Collision Mats.”

Jeepable - Impassable except by a Jeep.

Ex: “The road is bone-jarring but at least it’s Jeepable.”

Nut Buster - Mechanic.

Ex: “Do you remember all the heroic Nut Busters from 'Star Wars'? Me neither.”

Pep Tire - Doughnut.

Ex: "These Pep Tires are rotting my bread basket.”

Ribbon Happy - Dazzled by one’s own decorations.

Ex. “That Ribbon Happy Major is going to get us all killed.”

Royal Order of Whale Bangers - An ‘exclusive’ club open only to those Airmen who have mistakenly dropped depth charges onto whales believing them to be enemy submarines. Honestly, I see no way to carry this over into contemporary society and only included it because I thought it was hilarious.

Sin Buster - Chaplain.

Ex: “As soon as you’re done at the Bayonet Course, you should go see the Sin Buster and get right with Jesus.”

That pretty well exhausts my list. There are literally hundreds more like these but I did my best to select the ones I felt could be brought back into usage as well as those I thought were funny. In addition, I didn’t want to make it too long as the only thing more prevalent in Veterans than an appreciation of history is our short attention sp


[What are some of your favorite military slang terms?]

Mike 'Danger' Sampsell
Mike 'Danger' Sampsell


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