valentines-cartoons-10-ssFortunately or unfortunately, but learners of English as a foreign language study slang only from afar. As a rule, they acquire their knowledge of English in the formal atmosphere of the classroom, where slang is out of place. Some teachers of English try overcome this difficulty by teaching their students slang idioms, but there are dangers in this practice. Slang changes so quickly that it is likely to be out of date before it reaches the classroom. Besides, the effective use of slang demands a feeling for delicate shades of formality that cannot be expected from anyone who needs classroom instruction. I would compare a native user of slang to a teenager who walks down the steps in a stairwell of a multistoried building, and then decides to slide down the rails of the staircase instead. The teenager knows how to do it, he has done it many a time before and feels quite confident about his downrun-route. A foreigner, however, is an adult person who is quite inexperienced in this type of descent. He may, of course, follow the teenager’s style, but will definitely cut a ridiculous figure and will hardly be a success in his attempt. It would be more befitting if the adult (= the foreigner) simply OBSEREVED the skill of the young man (i.e. , in our case, understood slang and appreciated it for what it is), and walked quietly on. “Make it flat”, my teacher of English used to say.

Being an “adult foreigner”, I’m not likely to catch up with such aspects of slang as its degree of novelty or its permitted intimacy, but as a linguist, I will be able to admire its dynamics and imaginative power. The first group of slang idioms which I’m offering today is military slang. Why military? Because that was my first encounter with colloquial English when I served in the military as a conscript in the 1970s. I took lots of English books with me from the civvy street into the barracks, and collections of American military humor brought color into my soldier’s life. Here are some findings discovered by me on the Internet today.

brain bucket (U.S., Canada) Combat helmet.

camel jockey used to refer to Arabs. Pejorative.

Dead Man Walking (U.S. Army) A person who has a permanent profile (see profile below) which allows him/her to walk two and a half miles rather than run 2 miles as part of the Army Physical Fitness Test.

ASAP – As Soon As Possible: This has become slang in normal speech but in the military it means “immediately.”

First Shirt – First Sergeant (Usually the senior NCO within a military unit)

boot – Someone lacking in experience. A reference to “boot camp”.

on the double – (US Navy, Marines) As quickly as possible; without delay.

blue nose (U.S. Navy, Marines) Anyone who has served above the Arctic Circle.

Cycled (U.S. Navy) or “getting cycled”  In boot camp, the act of being “beat” by your company commanders via strenuous work-out, or “PT” sessions. Cycling normally occurs after a member or the entire company has made an error of some kind either in drilling, training, etc. Cycling has no time limit, it lasts as long as desired by the company commander(s), and it can include any physical training that has been imagined. Oftentimes company commanders will make their recruits put on multiple layers of clothing, while closing windows and turning off fans, etc., in an effort to make it “rain indoors”. Lore states of “rain makers”, company commanders often rumored to be in charge of other units who will make guest appearances at cycles in an effort to achieve the results of “raining indoors”, due to the fact that the sweat from the recruits will cause condensation to build in the room and leak down from the ceilings

GI (U.S.) Always pronounced as initials “gee ai”, coined during WWII it reputedly stands for “government issue(d)”. As a noun, GI refers to a member of a U.S. military service, as in “G.I. Joe”; originally pejorative as it implied that U.S. Soldiers were nothing but interchangeable units (Government Issue(d) Joe) that could be requisitioned like any other supplies. As an adjective, it can be applied to any item of U.S. military materiel or procedure. When used as a verb it means to put into military shape, as in “to GI the barracks”.

get some Navy (U.S. Navy) A verb used to describe a situation where someone has some pain inflicted on them due to something associated to the Navy. (e.g., A Sailor is told that he has to stay past his duty time and do extra duty due to the whim of a higher ranking person – he is “getting some Navy”).

Garatrooper (Canada) used to describe a Soldier who excels in garrison but is lacking where it counts in the field. This term was used by WWII U.S. Army Cartoonist Bill Mauldin “Up Front” to describe those who were “too far forward to wear ties, and too far back to get shot” However the term proved unpopular with the Paratroopers who saw it as a slur on their designation and it never gained popularity with U.S. forces.

G.I. party (U.S. Army & Air Force) A term used to describe scrubbing the barracks from top to bottom. This sort of “party” is seldom, if ever, fun.

grunt (U.S.) Originally, a derogatory term for Army or Marine infantrymen (referencing the sounds made by men carrying heavy gear). This term has become more acceptable over time, and today, most, if not all, infantrymen are proud to be “grunts,” as opposed to other MOSes in the military. Also known as “Ground Pounders.” Although “grunt” is not an acronym, common backronyms include: “Ground Replacement Unit, Not Trained.”

gun bunny (U.S.) An artilleryman – often specifically a cannon crewman. Often used as derogatory and implies simplemindedness because of simple job – “Pull string, gun goes boom”

ID10T Form (U.S.) Idiot form. A non-existent form that ignorant airmen/marines are sent to find. Usually they are new to their unit.

jack (U.K., AUS) Selfish, as in “Don’t be a jack bastard” or “Don’t jack on your mates”. One of the most serious. things a British Soldier can be accused of by his comrades.

K.I.A Killed In Action

KP (U.S., Canada) Abbreviation for the obsolete term “Kitchen Police”, a duty assigned (to other than food service personnel) to perform menial, but necessary, kitchen chores such as dishwashing, serving and kitchen cleaning, oftentimes as a punishment for bad behavior. It has been jocularly backronymed to “Keep Peeling”, in reference to the popular perception of Soldiers peeling potatoes; however, in the United States, current Army regulations prohibit non-food services personnel from food preparation.

Latrine Wisdom (U.S. Military) Jokes and quotes left by military personnel in porta potties and bathroom walls.

LN (U.S.) Acronym for a Local National (pronounced ELL-N). used to describe “friendly” locals who work on Army Bases in Iraq.

Meat shield (Canada) An infantryman

Meathead (Canada): An MP, descriptive of the red berets they wear as part of their uniform .

Ocifer (Singapore) A derogatory term for a conscript officer

On your face (U.S. Army) Do pushups.

Penguin (U.K. RAF) Aircrews term for ground crew. “All flap and no fly.”

Shirt (U.S. Air Force) Respectful term to address an Air Force First Sergeant. For example, “Hey Shirt, got a minute?”

sniper check (Canada and U.S.) A salute rendered to an officer in a field environment, where salutes are normally proscribed because they identify officers to the enemy.

spook (U.S., U.K.) A spy. Used for anyone in the CIA, MI5 or MI6.  In the military, one who deals with the gathering of electronic intelligence.

two digit midget (U.S.) A G.I. who has less than 100 days ‘in country’ left before they rotate back to the U.S.A and/or before discharge. Coined during Vietnam War. See “short”.

short, or short-timer (U.S.) Term coined during Vietnam era to describe personnel approaching the end of their tour and/or term of service. Usually announced in an obnoxious and rowdy manner — examples: “I’m so short I had to parachute out of bed this morning and accidentally landed in my boot!”, “I’m so short I could sit on a piece of paper and dangle my legs over the edge!” Modified into “short-timer” in the modern military era.

six, six and a kick (U.S.) Six months confinement, six months loss of pay, reduction in grade to E-1, Bad Conduct Discharge; formerly the most severe penalty that could be awarded by a special court martial. A special court martial can now adjudge 12 months confinement.

suck, the (U.S.) The field, bad conditions, rotten duty, used to describe the military as a whole. One might say “embrace the suck” to tell someone to stop complaining and accept the situation.

suck it up (U.S.) See “suck, the” above. Similar to “embrace the suck.”

suck thumb (Singapore) Shut up and stop complaining

waste of money U.S.) Derogatory term used to describe a woman Marine, a.k.a. WM

Weather Guesser (U.S. Navy) Slang for a Sailor in the AG (Aerographers Mate) rating. Weather forecasters. Self-explanatory.


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