Popular Phrases That Originated in the Military

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The American military has had an impact on popular culture, whether it’s movies, fashion, or your political preference. And for better or worse, the argot of the military has seeped into everyday language, and we commonly use terms derived from it without thinking about or realizing where they came from. (You might be surprised by the origins of these common English words.)

To determine the most popular phrases that originated in the military, 24/7 Tempo reviewed compilations of such phrases from the USO and other sources and did additional research into their origins in the Oxford English Dictionary and elsewhere. Phrases were listed alphabetically.

Some of the phrases on our list have been around for much longer than you think. When we hear the phrase “no man’s land,” we think of the shell-pocked landscape of northern France and Belgium during World War I. The first mention of a no man’s land actually dates from 14th-century England and refers to areas where bodies were buried.

Speaking of World War I, the Great War has provided us with phrases such as “in the trenches” and “above and beyond the call of duty.” Other older phrases with military origins include “on the double,” referring to marching in double time, and “on the front lines.”  

World War II and the post-war era gave us expressions such as the acronym “Snafu” and the phrases “gung ho,” derived from the Chinese language and adopted by the U.S. Marines, and “locked and loaded” – a phrase immortalized by John Wayne in the World War II-themed rouser “Sands of Iwo Jima,” considered one of the best war movies of all time.

One of the more recent military phrases on our list is “boots on the ground,” whose origins have been traced to 1980 during the Iranian hostage crisis.

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