Do You Know Your U.S. Marines Lingo?


By: Ian Fortey

6 Min Quiz

Image: Hirurg / E+ / Getty Images

About This Quiz

The United States Marine Corps dates back to November 10, 1775. Two battalions of Continental Marines came together at that time to make a fighting force capable of handling duties on land and at sea, essentially making them the best parts of both the Army and the Navy. Over the years, the government tried to merge them with both of those military branches and considered them offshoots of both of those branches before they managed to carve out their own niche and become a stable third branch of the military in their own right.

Today the Marines are world-renowned as one of the most impressive fighting forces in any military. If someone says they're a Marine, they get taken seriously. And just as with any branch of the Armed Forces when you're in the Marines, you not only have to learn to act like a Marine, you learn to talk like a Marine. From official terms to much more unofficial lingo, there's a whole vocabulary associated with being a Marine. Most of us will only know what we hear on TV and in movies, while those who live it should know everything in this quiz and then some. So let's see what you've got! Take the quiz!

If a Marine calls someone a boot, what are they saying?

Anyone who gets called a boot is a new recruit. Why call them a boot? Because they're fresh out of boot camp! It's not necessarily an insult but it's not necessarily a compliment, either.


You just pulled guard duty. What are you likely to call it if you're a Marine?

When you're on guard, you're said to be on fire watch. This is often used in reference to a non-combat situation, just guarding the barracks overnight when nothing is going on.


What happens on field day?

Field day sounds like it should be fun, but it really isn't. Field day is the day everything gets cleaned. This is a full clean from floor to ceiling with furniture and gear all moved, and everything scrubbed down. No one likes field day.


Do you know which movie a Marine might reference to describe an improvised military vehicle?

Sometimes in the field, you need to tweak a vehicle and improvise the armor to fit a situation. Often an irregular vehicle that meets that description can be referred to as a "Mad Max" and, in fact, vehicles have been described in the media that way in the past.


What does "rah!" mean anyway?

"Rah" is a trimmed down version of "oorah," which is the generally accepted battle cry of the Marines. What does oorah even mean? That's a hard one to put your finger on, and it's not really even traceable to one place or time. But does it matter? You yell it to express you're pumped up.


If a Marine says "Semper Gumby," what do they mean?

Semper Gumby is, of course, a play on the Marine motto of Semper Fidelis. When they say Semper Gumby, they're saying they're always flexible and able to adapt. This might be used when a Marine is given one set of orders then immediately has to do something different.


What term might a Marine use to describe slacking off?

If a Marine is skating, it means they're slacking off and not doing all they could be doing. The term evokes fast movement, as in ice skating or skateboarding, and works here too as the Marine has somehow skated away from having to do whatever task they had to do.


Do you have any idea what ninja punch means?

No one wants to experience a ninja punch, which means non-judicial punishment or an Article 15. When a Marine has done something that doesn't merit a court-martial but still requires severe repercussions, this is it. It could result in a loss of rank or pay grade.


Who is Private Schmuckatelli?

Private Schmuckatelli is a fictional Marine who is used as an example to the other Marines in a conversation. For instance, if your CO wants you not to screw up, he might mention that he doesn't want you to fall asleep on Fire Watch like Private Schmuckatelli did last week.


Which of these terms might apply to a Marine who's only concerned with himself?

The Marines motto is "Semper fidelis," which means "always faithful" and often gets shorted to "Semper fi." As a play on that, when a Marine is a bit self-centered or selfish the others might refer to that soldier as "Semper I."


What does BCG stand for?

If you wear glasses, then the Marine Corps will kindly issue you a pair of boot camp glasses when you enlist, known to be some of the least fashionable and ugly pieces of equipment in the world. You've likely seen these black, thick-rimmed monsters before.


Which of these is an old-school nickname for a Marine?

Though it doesn't get used a ton, the term leatherneck is a very old nickname for Marines. It comes from the old uniforms that used to have high leather collars to protect the wearer from being sliced up by a sword. Dress blues still have similar high collars.


What does a Marine mean when they talk about their blues?

Marine dress uniforms are known as dress blues or, more succinctly, blues. There's no real secret behind the name since the dress uniform for Marines is often blue though it's worth noting they haven't always been and aren't always 100% blue.


What's a squid?

As much as the branches of the Armed Forces have to work together to protect the nation, it doesn't mean they have to like each other in their downtime. Marines may call sailors in the Navy squids, and it's not really a friendly term.


What would a Marine call a voucher or letter that gives them some kind of special treatment?

Anything that gives you a bit of a break or an edge over the other Marines can be called a chit. For instance, if you're injured and have a note from the doctor, that's a chit that might get you light duty for a week.


Which of these terms can be used to describe marching?

When you have to march or drill at some time, you could toss out the term romp n' stomp to describe it. The word "hump" can also be used or marching, but usually means you're carrying something that's a burden at the same time like you had to hump a 150 lb pack back to the barracks.


Which term is sometimes meant as an insult towards Marines?

The term "jarhead" is used by Marines but is also historically an insult directed at Marines. It comes from the haircut Marines had to get, known as the "high-and-tight" cut that made their heads look like mason jars plus the fact that the Mason Jar Company literally made helmets for Marines during WWII.


Who or what qualifies as a Joker?

From the movie "Full Metal Jacket," the name Joker refers to a military journalist. In the film, the character gets his nickname "Private Joker" during basic training, and it follows him through his career as a journalist in the military.


Do you know what a pickle suit is?

The service A uniform was adopted by the Marines back in 1943 and is the oldest service uniform still in use. It's a base uniform and could be considered the military equivalent of a suit while dress blues are more the equivalent of a tux. It's called a pickle suit because it's head to toe green.


What nickname does the marksmanship qualification badge have?

There are three kinds of badges a marksman can get in the Marine Corps for using rifles. The expert badge is the highest level and then comes the sharpshooter badge. The marksmanship badge is the third and lowest level and is sometimes called the pizza box as it's literally a square piece of metal with a target in it.


What does "actual" refer to in radio communication?

When a Marine gets on the radio to talk to someone and says something like "Delta Six Actual this is Hunter, come in, over," what they're requesting is to speak to whoever is in command of Delta Six as opposed to just the guy lugging the Delta Six radio around.


Marines don't have a bed, what do they have?

You have a rack in the Marine Corps or sometimes a sack if that's how you roll but not a bunk. A bunk is the Army term for a bed, and they're not really interchangeable terms for some reason.


If you want to know the latest gossip, what will you ask a fellow Marine about?

The latest gossip is also called the scuttlebutt. The term is used sometimes in civilian life, but it does have military origins as it refers to the casks of fresh water found on boats around which sailors would chat. An old-timey water cooler, essentially.


What does a Marine carry their stuff in?

Marines carry their stuff around in a seabag. You can keep your clothes and toiletries and whatever else you need in one. It looks just like a duffel bag and, if we're being honest, it is a duffel bag, but it's not called a duffel bag. Army soldiers use duffel bags.


Which of these terms applies to military intelligence operations?

Thanks to a Hannah Barbera cartoon in the '60s about a squirrel who was a spy, the military has continually referred to intelligence operations in all branches by the name "secret squirrel." Usually, this is informal, but some formal missions have used it, like Project Ardilla. "Ardilla" is Spanish for "squirrel."


If a Marine mentions their skivvies, what are they referring to?

This sometimes pops up in civilian vernacular but in the military, your skivvies are your underclothes, which usually encompass both a plain white undershirt and plain white boxer shorts.


What's a Smokey Bear?

When a soldier becomes a drill instructor, they get a distinctive hat known as a campaign cover. That campaign cover looks an awful lot like the hat worn by Smokey the Bear, which is what some Marines will refer to it as.


What does gunny mean?

Marines will refer to their gunnery sergeant as "gunny." Their job is to serve as fire and operations chief, and they rank above a staff sergeant but below a master sergeant. You can reach the rank of master gunnery sergeant, and the nickname of gunny would no longer be appropriate.


Do you know what a grunt is?

Marine infantry soldiers are often referred to as grunts. It was likely meant as an insult when it first became popularized, but it's just the sort of generally accepted term these days and isn't considered rude.


If a Marine is talking about taco rice, what do they mean?

Weirdly enough, taco rice is what it sounds like. This dish is apparently the most splendid food a Marine stationed in Okinawa will ever eat, and there are numerous recipes online if you want to try to make your own. Just Google it!


"Zero Dark Thirty" was a movie. What does the term mean?

Anything being done at zero-dark-thirty is being done in the pre-dawn hours before the sun has come up. It doesn't have to be a specific time, just very early with no natural light around.


What's your woolly pully?

Marines are issued sweaters that are part of the uniform for when weather permits. A green woolly pully goes with your service uniform and a blue woolly pully goes with your dress uniform.


Which of these is called a John Wayne?

The P-38 can opener is still in production and was a staple of the Marines for decades. It's a small, folding can opener that featured John Wayne in the original instructional videos on how to use the thing.


What might a Marine call a pilot?

Pilots, most specifically those from the US Air Force, are sometimes called zoomies. It makes sense to call them this since the United States Air Force Academy is also known by the name Zoomie U.


Do you know what a Ka-bar is?

The Marine combat knife is also called a Ka-bar and is actually trademarked as KA-BAR. It's made by Ka-Bar Knives, which is owned by Cutco, the people who do that door-to-door knife selling where they cut leather and rope with their knives to show off how sharp they are.


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