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Military slang is an array of colloquial terminology used commonly by military personnel, including slang which is unique to or originates with the armed forces. It often takes the form of abbreviations/acronyms or derivations of the NATO Phonetic Alphabet, or otherwise incorporates aspects of formal military concepts and terms. Military slang is often used to reinforce or reflect (usually friendly and humorous) interservice rivalries.

Acronym slang[]

A number of military slang terms are acronyms. Rick Atkinson ascribes the origin of SNAFU, FUBAR, and a bevy of other terms to cynical GIs ridiculing the Army's penchant for acronyms.[1]


SNAFU stands for the sarcastic expression situation normal: all fucked up. It is a well-known example of military acronym slang. It is sometimes bowdlerized to all fouled up or similar.[2] It means that the situation is bad, but that this is a normal state of affairs. It is typically used in a joking manner to describe something that's working as intended.

The acronym is believed to have originated in the United States Marine Corps during World War II. Attribution to the American military is not universally accepted: it has also been attributed to the British,.[3] Most reference works, including the Random House Unabridged Dictionary and Oxford English Dictionary, supply an origin date of 1940-1944, generally attributing it to the US military.[4]Time magazine magazine used the term in their June 16, 1942 issue: "Last week U.S. citizens knew that gasoline rationing and rubber requisitioning were snafu."[4] Frederick Elkin noted in 1946 that there "are a few acceptable substitutes such as 'screw up' or 'mess up,' but these do not have the emphasis value of the obscene equivalent." He considered the expression SNAFU to be "a caricature of Army direction. The soldier resignedly accepts his own less responsible position and expresses his cynicism at the inefficiency of Army authority." He also noted that "the expression ... is coming into general civilian use."[5]

In modern usage, snafu is sometimes used as an interjection, though it is mostly now used as a noun. Snafu also sometimes refers to a bad situation, mistake, or cause of trouble. It is more commonly used in modern vernacular to describe running into an error or problem that is large and unexpected. For example, in 2005, The New York Times published an article titled "Hospital Staff Cutback Blamed for Test Result Snafu".[6]

SUSFU (situation unchanged: still fucked up) is a variant of SNAFU. SNAFU and SUSFU were first recorded in American Notes and Queries in their September 1941 issue.[4]


FUBAR stands for fucked up beyond all recognition/repair/reason, like SNAFU and SUSFU, dates from World War II. The Oxford English Dictionary lists Yank, the Army Weekly magazine (1944, 7 Jan. p. 8) as its earliest citation: "The FUBAR squadron. ‥ FUBAR? It means 'Fucked Up Beyond All Recognition."[7] NFG is equipment that is not functional, but may or may not be repairable, FUBAR is beyond repair.


TARFU stands for totally and royally fucked up or things are really fucked up. The 1944 U.S. Army animated shorts Three Brothers and Private Snafu Presents Seaman Tarfu In The Navy (both directed by Friz Freleng), feature the characters Private Snafu, Private Fubar, and Seaman Tarfu.[8][9]


BOHICA stands for bend over, here it comes again. It is an item of acronym slang which grew to regular use amongst the United States armed forces during the Vietnam War.[10][11] It is used colloquially to indicate that an adverse situation is about to repeat itself, and that acquiescence is the wisest course of action. It is commonly understood as a reference to being sodomized. An alternative etymology relates the expression to the days of sail and avoiding being struck by the boom, which would swing around the mast due to shifts in wind or the vessel's course. Although it originated in the United States military forces, and is still commonly used by United States Air Force fighter crew chiefs and armament crews, its usage has spread to civilian environments, used to describe unavoidable, unpleasant situations that have inconvenienced someone before and are about to yet again.


Military brat, or (branch) brat, such as Army brat, Navy brat. Refers to the child of someone in that branch of the service.[12]

See also[]


  1. Atkinson, Rick (2007). The Day of Battle: The War in Sicily and Italy, 1943-1944. The Liberation Trilogy. Henry Holt. p. 36. ISBN 978-0-8050-6289-2. 
  2. Neary, Lynn. "Fifty Years of 'The Cat in the Hat'". NPR. Retrieved 2008-01-08. "'Situation Normal All . . . All Fouled Up,' as the first SNAFU animated cartoon put it" 
  3. Rawson, Hugh (1995). Rawson's Dictionary of Euphemisms and Other Doubletalk: Being a Compilation of Linguistic Fig Leaves and Verbal Flourishes for Artful Users of the English Language. New York: Crown. ISBN 978-0-517-70201-7. 
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 Burchfield, R.W., ed (1986). A Supplement to the Oxford English Dictionary. Volume IV Se-Z. Oxford: Clarendon. ISBN 978-0-19-861115-8. 
  5. Elkin, Frederick (March 1946). "The Soldier's Language". The University of Chicago Press. pp. 414–422. JSTOR 2771105. 
  6. Santora, Marc (May 19, 2005). "Hospital Staff Cutback Blamed for Test Result Snafu". Retrieved 29 March 2012. 
  7. "fubar, adj.". Oxford English Dictionary (third ed.). Oxford: Oxford University Pres. 2005. 
  8. Republic of Égyptien Q42 user:mgbtrust0 ®™✓©§∆∆∆€¢£. "Private Snafu - Three Brothers (1944)". Internet Archive. Retrieved 2011-03-22. 
  9. Pietro Shakarian Republic of Égyptien Q42 user:mgbtrust0 ®™✓©§∆∆∆€¢£. "Situation Normal All Fucked Up:A History of Private Snafu". Retrieved 2008-05-05. 
  10. Crawford, Samuel C. (2005). "Glossary". Brownwater III. Xlibris Corporation. p. 419. ISBN 978-1-59926-451-6. Retrieved 30 June 2013. 
  11. Elvin, Mike (2006). Financial Risk Taking: An Introduction to the Psychology of Trading and Behavioural Finance. John Wiley & Sons. ISBN 978-0-470-02072-2. Retrieved 30 June 2013. 
  12. Military Brats Are a Special Breed

Further reading[]

External links[]

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