Author Topic: Military Terminology - Where did it come from?  (Read 8229 times)

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Offline George Wallace

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Military Terminology - Where did it come from?
« on: June 26, 2013, 10:27:22 »
Often we use terms and expressions in our daily operations, and although we may know what they mean or refer to, we often have no idea where the term or expression originated from.  Some of these terms and expressions are so lost in our ancient military history, that finding where they originated if often left to "old wife's tales".

Here is an opportunity for us to discuss the origins of some of our commonplace terminology and expressions used in the workplace, on our Nets and in the Field/at Sea.
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Offline GulfOfTalkin

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No Duff
« Reply #1 on: June 26, 2013, 10:41:31 »
I see this asked about sometimes.  A lot of people think that the Duff in No Duff is a version of Guff, as in No Guff.  In fact the term comes from the old days of radio warfare where instead of instant pinpointing of radio signals that we can do today, another technique was used which was known as direction finding.  During friendly exercises with force on force simulations if there was a real world situation that needed to be dealt with (injury, fire, etc.) the forces could say "No Direction Finding" at the start of their radio message so that other forces would not cheat and use direction finding to give themselves an unfair advantage that they might not otherwise have.  "No Direction Finding" became "No DF" which became "No Duff." 

(told to me by a signals MWO on a QL4 Comms course)

Offline my72jeep

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Re: Military Terminology - Where did it come from?
« Reply #2 on: June 26, 2013, 11:38:17 »
I love the saying Son Of A Gun
This I am told by A wise Coxswain refers to a child conceived on board ship under a cannon.
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Offline Colin P

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Re: Military Terminology - Where did it come from?
« Reply #3 on: June 26, 2013, 11:42:23 »
Lock, stock and barrel. List of issue for all the parts to make a musket, now means complete. As I understand it, sometimes only the lock and barrel wee shipped and the stock would be made locally.

Offline E.R. Campbell

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Re: No Duff
« Reply #4 on: June 26, 2013, 11:55:14 »
I see this asked about sometimes.  A lot of people think that the Duff in No Duff is a version of Guff, as in No Guff.  In fact the term comes from the old days of radio warfare where instead of instant pinpointing of radio signals that we can do today, another technique was used which was known as direction finding.  During friendly exercises with force on force simulations if there was a real world situation that needed to be dealt with (injury, fire, etc.) the forces could say "No Direction Finding" at the start of their radio message so that other forces would not cheat and use direction finding to give themselves an unfair advantage that they might not otherwise have.  "No Direction Finding" became "No DF" which became "No Duff." 

(told to me by a signals MWO on a QL4 Comms course)


I heard that Duff Gen was wartime RAF/RCAF slang meaning incorrect information. That expression led to the signalling expression "No duff" which means "real." 

"Gen" was slang for information, but information from a higher HQ was also known as the "poop from group."

Correct information was sometimes called "pukka gen" which could lead to a "Pukka Sapper" discussion.
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Offline MARS

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Re: Military Terminology - Where did it come from?
« Reply #5 on: June 26, 2013, 13:13:19 »
"Cold enough to freeze the balls off a brass monkey"
Although Snopes indicates it might not be true, navy lore indicates it stems from the time of cannons and cannon balls, which were tacked on a brass plate called a monkey.  Brass expands and contracts at a different rate than iron in cold and hot weather, which would cause the pyramid of cannon balls to fall down in extreme cold weather.
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Offline Colin P

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Re: Military Terminology - Where did it come from?
« Reply #6 on: June 26, 2013, 13:49:52 »
Irish pennant, frayed rope end.

Offline E.R. Campbell

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Re: Military Terminology - Where did it come from?
« Reply #7 on: June 26, 2013, 13:52:25 »
Irish pennant, frayed rope end.


Irish pennant: also a loose thread peeking out from somewhere on one's uniform where loose threads were unwelcome; often, if spotted by an NCO, worth a couple of days of extra work and drill.  :-\
It is ill that men should kill one another in seditions, tumults and wars; but it is worse to bring nations to such misery, weakness and baseness
as to have neither strength nor courage to contend for anything; to have nothing left worth defending and to give the name of peace to desolation.
Algernon Sidney in Discourses Concerning Government, (1698)
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Offline jpjohnsn

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Re: Military Terminology - Where did it come from?
« Reply #8 on: June 26, 2013, 13:59:20 »
"Cold enough to freeze the balls off a brass monkey"
Although Snopes indicates it might not be true, navy lore indicates it stems from the time of cannons and cannon balls, which were tacked on a brass plate called a monkey.  Brass expands and contracts at a different rate than iron in cold and hot weather, which would cause the pyramid of cannon balls to fall down in extreme cold weather.
Looking at it logically, you can debunk it as a myth.  How long will a pyramid of cannonballs stay stacked on a pitching deck?
"Nescire autem quid ante quam natus sis acciderit, id est sempre esse puerum" - "To be ignorant of what occured before you were born is to remain always a child" - Marcus Tullius Cicero

Offline Journeyman

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Re: Military Terminology - Where did it come from?
« Reply #9 on: June 26, 2013, 14:11:39 »
Looking at it logically, you can debunk it as a myth.  How long will a pyramid of cannonballs stay stacked on a pitching deck?
Only if your "logic" dismisses cannons being readied behind a caponier, within a counterscarp battery, or a martello tower.....you know, those rare things whose designers somehow neglected pitching decks, but could theoretically get chilly nonetheless.

Offline jpjohnsn

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Re: Military Terminology - Where did it come from?
« Reply #10 on: June 26, 2013, 14:29:39 »
Only if your "logic" dismisses cannons being readied behind a caponier, within a counterscarp battery, or a martello tower.....you know, those rare things whose designers somehow neglected pitching decks, but could theoretically get chilly nonetheless.
Being that the supposed military etymology of the brass monkey story is universally cited as coming from the navy, my logic is sound. 

If you want to get more technical, a brass ring would not shrink enough in the cold, nor would iron shot expand enough in the heat, to cause the latter to become dislodged from the former.
"Nescire autem quid ante quam natus sis acciderit, id est sempre esse puerum" - "To be ignorant of what occured before you were born is to remain always a child" - Marcus Tullius Cicero

Offline Journeyman

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Re: Military Terminology - Where did it come from?
« Reply #11 on: June 26, 2013, 14:53:56 »
Being that the supposed military etymology of the brass monkey story is universally cited as coming from the navy, my logic is sound. 
Personally, I'm predisposed to believe it's BS for the temperature/physics you cited, but you can say only that it's pretty unlikely for Naval storage of ready shot.  History has one, perhaps two, examples of cannons being used from fixed fortifications on land, and it's perfectly logical to have a ring of some sort to hold four balls, either beside the gun or by a furnace if one were to heat them before firing. 

I'm just not as predisposed to dismiss something as illogical simply because you choose only what fits inside the story you want to tell.

Either way, feel free to jump in with the last word if you're really pumped about the topic.

Offline Loachman

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Re: No Duff
« Reply #12 on: June 26, 2013, 15:41:06 »

I heard that Duff Gen was wartime RAF/RCAF slang meaning incorrect information. That expression led to the signalling expression "No duff" which means "real." 

"Gen" was slang for information, but information from a higher HQ was also known as the "poop from group."

Correct information was sometimes called "pukka gen" which could lead to a "Pukka Sapper" discussion.

Fitting with the above, one definition from Dictionary.com is: "1. to give a deliberately deceptive appearance to; misrepresent; fake."

An example sentence from the same source is: "Much of the duff  information came from ignorant sales people and junior staff".

Urban Dictionary http://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=Duff%20Gen: "1.  Incorrect information. May have had origins in the RAF." - "That tip you gave me for the 2.30 at Sandown turned out to be duff gen."

Wikipedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/RAF_slang: "Duff - bad or not accurate, as in "duff gen" (inaccurate intelligence or incorrect information)."

Offline Michael O'Leary

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Re: Military Terminology - Where did it come from?
« Reply #13 on: June 26, 2013, 15:54:07 »
History has one, perhaps two, examples of cannons being used from fixed fortifications on land, and it's perfectly logical to have a ring of some sort to hold four balls, either beside the gun or by a furnace if one were to heat them before firing. 

HMS Diamond Rock, for example, although the sailors that manned her battery probably never had to worry about the cold.

Regardless, just because it is an old saying has never meant that there has to be a grain of (or complete) literal truth embedded in it.

Offline E.R. Campbell

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Re: Military Terminology - Where did it come from?
« Reply #14 on: June 26, 2013, 15:56:31 »
Two sources of military slang:

     1. Overseas service, especially in the Indian Army in the 19th century; and

     2. Signalling - the need for brevity (consider abbreviations: everything from SITREP to ACK), low level security (e.g. appointment titles like Sunray, Foxhound, Bluebell and so on) and clarity - think fixed callsigns -
         came to us from the pressures imposed by the nature of signal systems, especially voice radio.

It is ill that men should kill one another in seditions, tumults and wars; but it is worse to bring nations to such misery, weakness and baseness
as to have neither strength nor courage to contend for anything; to have nothing left worth defending and to give the name of peace to desolation.
Algernon Sidney in Discourses Concerning Government, (1698)
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Offline Infanteer

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Re: Military Terminology - Where did it come from?
« Reply #15 on: June 27, 2013, 00:23:17 »
The one I liked best was "Roger" - the old phonetic alphabet's "R", for Received.

The amount of jargon we use is incredible if you take the time to listen to a bunch of military people talk.  I had a reporter listen to me give orders to my Pl in Afghanistan for 20 minutes and he said the only thing he really understood was the work "f**k", which was used a lot.
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Offline Shamrock

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Re: Military Terminology - Where did it come from?
« Reply #16 on: June 27, 2013, 09:58:43 »
Two sources of military slang:

     1. Overseas service, especially in the Indian Army in the 19th century; and

     2. Signalling - the need for brevity (consider abbreviations: everything from SITREP to ACK), low level security (e.g. appointment titles like Sunray, Foxhound, Bluebell and so on) and clarity - think fixed callsigns -
         came to us from the pressures imposed by the nature of signal systems, especially voice radio.

Don't forget anachronisms.  The rest of Canada must be an unwashed mass - only the army performs daily ablutions. 

The Navy has some good ones.

Offline George Wallace

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Re: Military Terminology - Where did it come from?
« Reply #17 on: June 27, 2013, 11:00:52 »
Yes.  TLA's are often FLA's or even MLA's, but for simplicity TLA is used.   ;D
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Offline Colin P

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Re: Military Terminology - Where did it come from?
« Reply #18 on: June 27, 2013, 12:26:14 »
Not sure if the navy used it, but Coast Guard always called laundry Duhby (spelling?) Arabic for laundry

Offline MeanJean

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Re: No Duff :(
« Reply #19 on: June 27, 2013, 12:34:37 »
Fitting with the above, one definition from Dictionary.com is: "1. to give a deliberately deceptive appearance to; misrepresent; fake."

An example sentence from the same source is: "Much of the duff  information came from ignorant sales people and junior staff".
Urban Dictionary http://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=Duff%20Gen: "1.  Incorrect information. May have had origins in the RAF." - "That tip you gave me for the 2.30 at Sandown turned out to be duff gen."

Wikipedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/RAF_slang: "Duff - bad or not accurate, as in "duff gen" (inaccurate intelligence or incorrect information)."

And I thought duff came from the galley... In the navy we call our desserts duff.  Although, correct me if I am wrong, the blokes from the RN use that term for pudding.
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Offline Rheostatic

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Re: Military Terminology - Where did it come from?
« Reply #20 on: June 27, 2013, 12:50:20 »
Quote from: Shamrock
Don't forget anachronisms.  The rest of Canada must be an unwashed mass - only the army performs daily ablutions.
Why does the Army call lessons "mutuals"?

Offline prairefire

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Re: Military Terminology - Where did it come from?
« Reply #21 on: June 27, 2013, 12:56:32 »
I have a book that was given to me many years ago that may be out of print called:  FIGHTING WORDS From War, Rebellion and other Combative Capers by Christine Ammer published by Dell Books #0440-206669  I would highly recommend this book to anyone with an interest in military expressions.

The author goes into great detail on the source and origins of many expressions including anecdotal evidence of the initial usage.

Offline Oldgateboatdriver

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Re: Military Terminology - Where did it come from?
« Reply #22 on: June 27, 2013, 13:34:57 »
Not sure if the navy used it, but Coast Guard always called laundry Duhby (spelling?) Arabic for laundry

We do, but we spell it with an "o" instead of the "u": dhoby.

"guerrilla": Spanish for "little war", but they adapted it form Samuel de Champlain's reference to his fighting the Iroquois being a "petite guerre" because there never were fights of large body of men face to face as in European wars of the time.

Offline Colin P

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Re: Military Terminology - Where did it come from?
« Reply #23 on: June 27, 2013, 14:24:21 »
thanks I could not remember how it was spelled. Turkshead brushes and then there was the name for the capstan winch drums which i won't actually type in case it triggers a ban.

Offline BernDawg

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Re: Military Terminology - Where did it come from?
« Reply #24 on: June 27, 2013, 14:27:48 »
Here's a couple I picked up from doing historical research;

  Chit:
   Hindi word derived from their word for paper or a small slip of paper. The British Army used to issues pay notices for goods or services and the locals had to take their chitty to the paymaster to exchange it for hard currency. Apparently the pronunciation was more akin to sh*tty vice chitty but the term chit stuck with the army for a small slip of paper or note and today we still use it for sick notes or chit's from the MIR.

Split-arse:
   Us old soldiers know this as a derogatory term for the fairer sex and we always assumed it referenced their private parts however a couple of centuries ago women wore underwear that was commonly referred to as "split-arse bloomers". Much like capri styled undergarments they wore as a base layer. The bloomers were open from the front to the back to facilitate calls of nature while wearing their skirts/dresses with out having to completely disrobe. From what I could glean men did not wear "split-arse bloomers" so the term stuck for women. I can well imagine a crusty old RSM telling his troops to keep their camp wives in line using the vernacular of the day.
« Last Edit: June 27, 2013, 21:51:37 by BernDawg »
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