List of military slang terms

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Military slang is colloquial language used by and associated with members of various military forces. This page lists slang words or phrases that originate with military forces, are used exclusively by military personnel, or are strongly associated with military organizations.

Acronym slang[edit]

A number of military slang terms are acronyms. These include SNAFU, SUSFU, FUBAR and similar terms used by various branches of the United States military during World War II.


Main article: SNAFU

SNAFU, which stands for the sarcastic expression situation normal: all fucked up, is a well-known example of military acronym slang. It is sometimes bowdlerized to all fouled up or similar.[1] It means that the situation is bad, but that this is a normal state of affairs. It is typically used in a joking manner to describe something that's working as intended. The acronym is believed to have originated in the United States Marine Corps during World War II.[citation needed]

Time magazine used the term in their June 16, 1942 issue: "Last week U.S. citizens knew that gasoline rationing and rubber requisitioning were snafu."[2] Most reference works, including the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, supply an origin date of 1940–1944, generally attributing it to the U.S. Army.

Rick Atkinson ascribes the origin of SNAFU, FUBAR, and a bevy of other terms to cynical GIs ridiculing the Army's penchant for acronyms.[3]

Private Snafu is the title character of a series of military instructional films, most of which were written by Theodor "Dr. Seuss" Geisel, Philip D. Eastman, and Munro Leaf.[4]

In modern usage, snafu is sometimes used as an interjection, though it is mostly now used as a noun. Snafu also sometimes refers to a bad situation, mistake, or cause of trouble. It is more commonly used in modern vernacular to describe running into an error or problem that is large and unexpected. For example, in 2005, The New York Times published an article titled "Hospital Staff Cutback Blamed for Test Result Snafu".[5]

The attribution of SNAFU to the American military is not universally accepted: it has also been attributed to the British,[6] although the Oxford English Dictionary gives its origin and first recorded use as US military.[2]

In a wider study of military slang, Frederick Elkin noted in 1946 that there "are a few acceptable substitutes such as 'screw up' or 'mess up,' but these do not have the emphasis value of the obscene equivalent." He considered the expression SNAFU to be "a caricature of Army direction. The soldier resignedly accepts his own less responsible position and expresses his cynicism at the inefficiency of Army authority." He also noted that "the expression … is coming into general civilian use."[7]


SUSFU (situation unchanged: still fucked up) is closely related to SNAFU.

SNAFU and SUSFU were first recorded in American Notes and Queries in their September 1941 issue.[2]


Not to be confused with Foobar.
For other uses, see FUBAR (disambiguation).

FUBAR (fucked up beyond all recognition/any repair/all reason), like SNAFU and SUSFU, dates from World War II. The Oxford English Dictionary lists Yank, the Army Weekly magazine (1944, 7 Jan. p. 8) as its earliest citation: "The FUBAR squadron. ‥ FUBAR? It means 'Fouled Up Beyond All Recognition."[8]


TARFU (totally and royally fucked up or things are really fucked up) was also used during World War II.

The 1944 U.S. Army animated shorts Three Brothers and Private Snafu Presents Seaman Tarfu In The Navy (both directed by Friz Freleng), feature the characters Private Snafu, Private Fubar, and Seaman Tarfu (with a cameo by Bugs Bunny).[9][10]


BOHICA (bend over, here it comes again) is an item of acronym slang which grew to regular use amongst the United States armed forces during the Vietnam War.[11][12] It is used colloquially to indicate that an adverse situation is about to repeat itself, and that acquiescence is the wisest course of action. It is commonly understood as a reference to being sodomized. An alternative etymology relates the expression to the days of sail and avoiding being struck by the boom, which would swing around the mast due to shifts in wind or the vessel's course. Although it originated in the United States military forces, and is still commonly used by United States Air Force fighter crew chiefs and armament crews, its usage has spread to civilian environments, used to describe unavoidable, unpleasant situations that have inconvenienced someone before and are about to yet again.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Neary, Lynn. "Fifty Years of 'The Cat in the Hat'". NPR. Retrieved 2008-01-08. 'Situation Normal All . . . All Fouled Up,' as the first SNAFU animated cartoon put it 
  2. ^ a b c Burchfield, R.W., ed. (1986). A Supplement to the Oxford English Dictionary. Volume IV Se-Z. Oxford: Clarendon. ISBN 978-0-19-861115-8. 
  3. ^ Atkinson, Rick (2007). The Day of Battle: The War in Sicily and Italy, 1943–1944. The Liberation Trilogy. Henry Holt. ISBN 978-0-8050-6289-2. 
  4. ^ Nel, Philip (2007). "Children's Literature Goes to War: Dr. Seuss, P. D. Eastman, Munro Leaf, and the Private SNAFU Films (1943?46)". The Journal of Popular Culture. 40 (3): 468. doi:10.1111/j.1540-5931.2007.00404.x. 
  5. ^ Santora, Marc (May 19, 2005). "Hospital Staff Cutback Blamed for Test Result Snafu". The New York Times. Retrieved 29 March 2012. 
  6. ^ Rawson, Hugh (1995). Rawson's Dictionary of Euphemisms and Other Doubletalk: Being a Compilation of Linguistic Fig Leaves and Verbal Flourishes for Artful Users of the English Language. New York: Crown. ISBN 978-0-517-70201-7. 
  7. ^ Elkin, Frederick (March 1946), "The Soldier's Language", American Journal of Sociology, The University of Chicago Press, 51 (5 Human Behavior in Military Society): 414–422, JSTOR 2771105 
  8. ^ "fubar, adj.". Oxford English Dictionary (third ed.). Oxford: Oxford University Pres. 2005. 
  9. ^ "Private Snafu – Three Brothers (1944)". Internet Archive. Retrieved 2011-03-22. 
  10. ^ Pietro Shakarian. "Situation Normal All Fucked Up:A History of Private Snafu". Retrieved 2008-05-05. 
  11. ^ Crawford, Samuel C. (2005). "Glossary". Brownwater III. Xlibris Corporation. p. 419. ISBN 978-1-59926-451-6. Retrieved 30 June 2013. 
  12. ^ Elvin, Mike (2006). Financial Risk Taking: An Introduction to the Psychology of Trading and Behavioural Finance. John Wiley & Sons. ISBN 978-0-470-02072-2. Retrieved 30 June 2013. 

Further reading[edit]

BOHICA by Scott Barnes published 1987[1]

External links[edit]

  • ^ BOHICA Book, published 1987