List of military slang terms

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Military slang is a 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.


BOHICA (Bend Over, Here It Comes Again) is the title of a bestselling 1987 book by Scott T. Barnes. The book is the true account of a US ISA covert paramilitary operation, dubbed Operation Grand Eagle, that took place in Laos in 1981 with a small group of Green Berets, ISA operatives, and CIA staff. Later the operation would be the subject of several US Senate hearings, congressional hearings, and a Federal Grand Jury investigation.

"BOHICA" was to be used as the code word on covert communications with the NSA/CIA and ISA HQ. During the mission, it was uncovered that criminals of war were still being held captive in Laos. Two were ordered assassinated and to date have never been rescued, as it was determined they may have been off-the-book CIA operatives smuggling drugs.


FUBAR (Fucked/Fouled 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 'Fucked/Fouled Up Beyond All Recognition."[1]

Another version of FUBAR, said to have originated in the military, gives its meaning as Fucked Up By Assholes in the Rear. This version has at least surface validity in that it is a common belief among enlisted men and women that most problems are created by the military brass (officers, especially those bearing the rank of General, from one to four stars). This version is also most likely to have had its origin in the Army, where the senior officers command from the rear, as opposed to the Navy, where it is not uncommon for Admirals to command a fleet from one of the ships at sea, and therefore susceptible to attacks and death by the enemy (though it is freely acknowledged that the higher level Admirals usually command from a land base). Ditto as to Air Force Generals, who do not fly and/or directly command airplanes or even Squadrons or Air Wings.

This particular FUBAR acronym survived WWII and for a time in the 70s, found its way into the lexicon of management consultants. Their use of the term,(though the word, “rear,” is not normally used to describe the vantage point of senior corporate executives) may have come about as the result of their frequent conclusions that the cause of corporate problems (inefficiencies and ineffectiveness causing poor profitability or a negative bottom line) rested not with rank and file workers, but with executives, particularly senior executives - the equivalent of senior military officers. Therefore, FUBAR (Fucked Up By Assholes in the Rear) still applied well, even if in reality it should have been rendered as FUBAT (Fucked Up By Assholes at the Top).


FUBU (Fucked/fouled Up Beyond all Understanding) was also used during World War II.


SNAFU is widely used to stand for the sarcastic expression Situation Normal: All Fucked Up, as a well-known example of military acronym slang. However, the military acronym originally stood for "Status Nominal: All Fucked Up." It is sometimes bowdlerized to all fouled up or similar.[2] 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 is 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."[3] Most reference works, including the Random House Webster's Unabridged Dictionary, supply an origin date of 1940–1944, generally attributing it to the United States Army.

Rick Atkinson ascribes the origin of SNAFU, FUBAR, and a bevy of other terms to cynical G.I.s ridiculing the Army's penchant for acronyms.[4]

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.[5]

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 the 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".[6]

The attribution of SNAFU to the American military is not universally accepted: it has also been attributed to the British,[7] although the Oxford English Dictionary gives its origin and first recorded use as the U.S. military.[3]

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."[8]

An Imperial FU[edit]

An Imperial FU (An Imperial Fuck Up) was used during World War I by soldiers of the outlying British Empire, e.g. Canada, Australia, New Zealand, the Union of South Africa, Kenya, Tanganyika, India, in reference to odd/conflicting orders from British authorities. Note that during World War I, the British Empire had an Imperial War Cabinet, and the troops from Australia were called the Australian Imperial Force (AIF), not to be confused with the AEF, the American Expeditionary Forces of WW I, or the Allied Expeditionary Force of WW II.


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 13, 1941 issue.[3]


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]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "fubar, adj.". Oxford English Dictionary (third ed.). Oxford: Oxford University Pres. 2005.
  2. ^ Neary, Lynn. "Fifty Years of 'The Cat in the Hat'". National Public Radio. Retrieved 2008-01-08. 'Situation Normal  ... All Fouled Up,' as the first SNAFU animated cartoon put it
  3. ^ 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.
  4. ^ 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.
  5. ^ 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.
  6. ^ Santora, Marc (May 19, 2005). "Hospital Staff Cutback Blamed for Test Result Snafu". The New York Times. Retrieved 29 March 2012.
  7. ^ 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.
  8. ^ 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
  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". Archived from the original on 2008-05-12. Retrieved 2008-05-05.

Further reading[edit]

BOHICA by Scott Barnes published 1987[1]

External links[edit]

  • ^ BOHICA Book, published 1987