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Military Jokes and Humor

Military Word/Phrase Origins (Page 3)


SABOTAGE. This word meaning in English 'malicious injury to work, tools, machinery, etc., or any underhand interference with production or business, by enemy agents during wartime' should be traced to the French word 'sabot'-a shoe with a thick wooden sole. What has a shoe in common with the above mentioned meanings?

French workers used to show their protest against bosses with knocking with their sabots. Sometimes sabots were thrown into machinery to damage it. Hence 'saboteurs', acts of sabotage'.

CODE NAMES. Code names in military English include such words and expressions which are used as nicknames' (an official word) for naming operations, weapons, plans, etc. Code names, in their primary meaning, do not have any logical connection with what they designate. They are mainly designed to cover (conceal) the thing they represent to all persons who do not know their prearranged meaning. Here are some examples. In WWII the code name 'Alsos mission' was the cover name for a large-scale operation engineered and conducted by the American strategic secret service in the late period of the war to find and evacuate to the USA all prominent atomic scientists in Europe. 'Alsos' is Greek for 'grove' (small wood). The military leader of the American A-bomb development project (Manhattan Project) was General L.R. Groves. The code name 'Husky' was given to the operations plan of American landing in North Africa in 1943. The primary meaning of the word ('Eskimo dog') suggested something connected with the North (maybe just North Africa) but was deliberately misleading (Africa can hardly be thought as a country in the North). Nothing may be seen in the well-known nickname 'Overlord' of the Anglo-American invasion of Europe across the English Channel in 1944. It was just a cover word.

Sometimes such names have peculiar origin. They say that an American general in charge of the R&D project of a tactical missile was asked: "How should we name this missile?" and exclaimed: "Honest John!" (which was an exclamation expressing ignorance). And the missile was named 'Honest John'.

Names of weapons in the US Armed Forces are chosen to provide pompous designations of propagandistic significance, for example, 'Titan', 'Nike', 'Spartan' (to name but few missiles), 'Phantom', 'Cobra', 'Shooting Star' (aircraft). 'Samaritan' is the British name for an ambulance vehicle. Here some connection may be seen between the form and the meaning. Samaritan (from the bible) is 'one who is compassionate to a fellow being in distress' (compare the biblical 'good Samaritan'). Another British special combat vehicle for the battlefield recovery (extraction) of damaged and stuck mobile equipment was nicknamed 'Samson' (after the mythical performer of Herculean exploits).

'Brimstone Project' was the code name of the siting of Minuteman ballistic missiles in abandoned sulphur and copper ore mines.

WHAT GENDER AND WHAT SEX? Why a ship is referred to as 'she'? But why a military ship is called 'man of war'? Now etymologists also ask what sex a computer is. A wit says that computers are feminine. They are admitted for their configurations, he explained. They have the ability of total recall and correct all mistakes (by men). They also predict future foolishness '(of men). And, of course, they are always right.

A DOSAGE OF ETYMOLOGICAL ANALYSIS. Ammunition. From the French 'munition' (all war essentials).

Bullet. From the French 'boule' (ball) -any projectile (cannon or musket). Compare the modern term 'ball cartridge' (sharp ammo).

Grenade. From the Latin 'granatus' (seedy).

Gun. From Old Norse 'Gunnhildr' (a woman's name). Weapons often received feminine names.

Missile. From Latin 'missilis' (a weapon or other object thrown or projected).

ATTACKING CISTERNS. This combination sounds like a pun or a phrase from a sci-fic story. But 'cisterns' was the code name suggested at first to conceal new weapons developed by the British in WWI. Instead of "cisterns' these weapons were shipped as 'water tanks'. Hence tanks were called 'tanks.'

TATTOO. Originated during the Thirty Years War, and called the Zapfenstreich. At 9:00 p.m. when the call was sounded, all bungs (Zapfen) (sticks used to cork wine barrels) had to be in their barrels, signifying the end of the drinking bout. A check line (Streich) was then drawn across the bung by the guard so that it couldn't be opened without evidence of tampering. Bungs were translated in English as taps and the whole command as 'Tap to' that became 'Tattoo'.

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