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Military Jokes and Humor

Military Word/Phrase Origins (Page 2)


DEADLINE. This word is now a term. Its principal meanings are 'date limits', 'state of disrepair'. It's interesting to trace the development of this signification from the original meaning.

'Deadline' in jails meant the line in the yard where prisoners used to walk beyond which they had not to go. Guards could shoot dead any inmate crossing it. Hence the meaning (date or time) 'limit'. Vehicles with a long service period were scheduled to be sent to a maintenance shop for repair after a definite date (deadline). Those under repair were said to be 'deadlined'.

(which do not abbreviate anything)

SOS. This abbreviation known throughout the world as the international distress signal, transmitted by Morse code by ships at sea or aircraft in emergency, is often decyphered as spelling 'Save Our Souls'. Though this interpretation seems very romantic it has nothing to do with the real meaning. SOS is the simplest combination of dots and dashes to be easily memorized by any radio operator or listener.

OVRA. This abbreviation fortunately is not any longer known to younger generations. But in the recent past it was as well familiar as German 'Ges-tapo'. OVRA meant Italy's secret police during the fascist regime. Mussolini chose this haphazard combination of letters with a purpose to impress Italian people with the mystery of the meaning. He said the more mysterious this abbreviation would look the more fear these four letters would inspire.

DITCHING. How the word meaning a 'ditch' (trench as an excavation) came to mean 'forced landing by aircraft on water at sea'?

During WWII British aircraft returning from missions in Germany had to fly over the English Channel. In the sailors' lingo the word 'channel' has a familiar synonym 'ditch'. Hence, the English Channel was called the 'Ditch'. Naturally aircraft made emergency landing in the Ditch. They were 'ditched'. Now the word 'ditch' means 'to land planes in emergency on the sea anywhere' (for example, such terms as 'ditching exercise', 'ditching drill', etc.).

SWEEPING AGAIN. In addition to what the reader may know about this word we may point out the humorous phrase 'Admiral's Broom' which is nearly close in meaning to the expression 'Marshal's baton' proverbially carried by every soldier in his knapsack.

The Dutch Admiral, Marten Tromp, beat the English fleet in 1652. He allegedly sailed up the Channel with a broom at his masthead in token of his ability to sweep the seas of the enemy.

KNOWING THE ROPES. Phraseology connected with the sea and sailors and sailing pervades the English vocabulary. Here are some of the phrases of naval origin.

Know the ropes - know everything thoroughly about a subject. In the era of the sail fleets it took a lot of effort for a sailor to learn everything about the rigging of the ship (made up of canvas sails and ropes) and its manipulation. The expression 'know the hang' of something is of the same origin (know how to set up - 'hang' - various sails).

Of naval origin are such well-known phrases as 'full steam ahead', 'keep steady'. To naval activities belong 'steer clear of-avoid; 'torpedo an undertaking (conference)'; 'be three sheets in the wind', 'half seas over'-be drunk; 'go overboard'; 'clear the decks (for action)'-prepare for something; 'fire abroadside'-apply effort; 'lie of the land'- general situation-'See how the land lies'; 'Weigh anchor'-move off, and very many others.

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