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Say what? A Lesson in the Alphabet Soup of Military Jargon

There are all kinds of variations in accents and vocabulary across the country, but sometimes when I’m around members of the military it can feel like they’re not even speaking English. As a salute to our troops, HC has compiled a list of military jargon so you can begin to understand the lingo! Just don’t go listing “Military” as a Foreign Language on your resume.

Bug Juice – Navy Kool-aid

Cammies – Camouflage uniforms, i.e., the outfits that immediately impress us all.

D-DAY – The day on which an operation commences or is to commence.

Dog Tags – Slang for the identity disks worn for identification. These tags include lots of information like name and religion.

Gung ho – Very enthusiastic, loosely derived from a Chinese term meaning “work together.”

IED – Improvised Explosive Device

Keep Your Powder Dry – Saying for good luck and suggesting carefulness. In the flintlock days, gunpowder was loaded from a leather sack. If it was damp, it didn’t fire.

Leg – A non-airborne person.

LZ – Landing Zone

MRE – Meals, ready to eat. Apparently these are a serious improvement over C-rations, a less than gourmet packaging of food developed just before WWII and used until the early 1970’s.

MOS – Military Occupational Specialty. Just like any company, the military is full of different jobs, from engineers to counter intelligence officers.

Motarted – When a soldier is so motivated that he makes rash and silly decisions.

NJP – Non Judicial Punishment, a leadership tool providing military commanders a prompt and essential means of maintaining good order and discipline. These punishments can be issued at an officer’s discretion for anything from sleeping through duty to getting a hickey (destruction of government property).

Per diem – Each day. It’s derived from Latin and refers to forms of compensation.

ROTC – Reserve Officers Training Corp, a program on college campuses to train officers (i.e., the hot men in uniform on campus).

Rack – Bed, as in “hit the rack,” i.e., go to bed.

TDY – Temporary Duty

Voluntold – When you’re asked to volunteer… and not given much choice. It’s like when your professor calls on you when your hand wasn’t even raised.


John Grauel, Army


Julianne Grauel is a sophomore Professional Writing major at Carnegie Mellon University and is originally from the California Bay Area. At Carnegie Mellon she is a peer tutor for writing and an active sister in her sorority, Kappa Alpha Theta. This past summer, she interned at Gentry Magazine and hopes to work for a magazine after college. Julianne loves football, sushi, sunshine, and dance parties. She probably consumes far too much Red Mango froyo and can’t get enough of Project Runway. In her free time she likes to travel, watch sports center, take spinning classes and, most of all, shop.