Royal Navy Slang - Do You Know Your Wets From Your Roof Rats?

Which of these popular military terminologies do you recognise?

Life in the Armed Forces has many attractive strings to its bow. After all, there have to be solid reasons why so many men and women in the UK opt for a career in the military over any other. Those reasons include the sense of adventure, quality of life and variety roles in the Royal Navy, British Army or Royal Air Force can provide.

But again and again, one word that crops up around why so many professionals find their purpose in the forces is comradery.

There is no workplace in Britain like the Armed Forces when it comes to comradery.

And part of that fundamental matter is little things like the unique lingo men and women speak in each of the three services.

Here, BFBS explores the specific terminology and language used by members of the Royal Navy.

This is all the gen on navy slang.

Credit: RN

Does The Royal Navy Have Its Own Language?

In a word … yes.

Take a look at this – can you guess what it means?

"I prefer babies heads over bag meals, although really, I'm a bit of a nutty fiend."

'Babies heads' is navy slang for Steak and Kidney puddings. A 'bag meal' means packed lunch and 'nutty fiend' translates as somebody who likes to eat many sweets. So, the above navy-code sentence translates as:

"I prefer to eat Steak and Kidney puddings instead of packed lunches, although really, I am a big sweets eater."

Credit: MOD

How Can British Military Slang Be Classified?

Writing in his paper 'English Military Slang: Definition, Means of Formation and Thematic Classification, PJ Mitchell considered the notion of "English military slang as a separate vocabulary" and it possessing "certain attributes."

The Tomsk State University scholar's research paper said:

"Slang is considered to be informal speech with evaluative, expressive and emotional connotations standing apart from literary language."

Mitchell proposed a model of classification of English military slang based on thematic groups, which were divided into:

Interpersonal relationships

  • Everyday interpersonal relationships between military personnel,
  • Interpersonal relationships between military personal depending on rank, position, armed service and service branch, and
  • Relations toward military personnel and civilian populations of foreign countries.

The activity of military personnel

  • Everyday activity and life of military personnel,
  • Activity during armed conflict and exercise, and
  • Leave and free time.

A person and his surrounding world

  • Food,
  • Clothing and uniform,
  • Weaponry and military equipment,
  • State of health and body parts, and
  • Mood and mental state.

So prevalent is slang in the Armed Forces, Mitchell's paper concluded with a specific recommendation that future military interpreter courses should include modules dealing solely with British military slang.

Credit: RN

What Are The Most Common Navy Slang Words?

Here are some common Royal Navy-specific words and expressions.

Adrift To be late

Anchor-faced Somebody who extremely enthusiastic about their career in the Royal Navy

 Bezzy Best mate

 Bone Stupid

 Bootneck Royal Marine

 Chad Valley A piece of equipment that is generally not very good, or the lesser quality of what is available on the market

 Crabby Dirty

 Crabfat Somebody serving in the RAF

 Dhobie Washing (as in laundry)

 Dhobie dust Washing powder

 Dose STDs/STIs

 Flap Panic

 Gash Rubbish (can be used for litter or something that doesn't work very well)

 Gen Genuine - but also used to brief someone, or meaning study something in detail, as in 'gen up' or 'all the gen'

 Heads Toilets 

 Jenny A member of the WRENs

 Matelot Sailor

 Minging To be drunk

 NATO standard Tea or coffee with milk and two sugars 

 Necky To be particularly cheeky 

 Oppo A Royal Navy colleague  

 Pinged To be seen, typically when not wanting to be 

 Pit A sailor's bed

 Roof Rats Aircraft handlers

 Run ashore A night out – usually involving alcohol 

 Sad on To be unhappy or disappointed 

 Shippers An onboard colleague

 Shitehawk A Seagull

 Sprog A child

 Sun dodger A member of the submarine service

 Thin out To leave or to end one's day in work/duty

 Tot A Rum measure 

 Wet A drink of something (tea usually)

 Winger A mate

 Woolly pully A service issued woolly jumper

One of HMS Albions sailors stands guard as the tanker ESPS Patino sails past DATE ADDED 191120 CREDIT ROYAL NAVY
Credit: RN

What does Scran mean?

Scran, which almost everybody who has served in the Armed Forces will instantly know to mean food, actually has a deeper meaning.

Its origin comes from the Royal Navy practice of supplementing sailors' diets with additional portions of Sultanas, Currants, Raisins and Nuts – which can be shortened to 'SCRAN'.

According to @OnThisDayRN on Twitter, those supplements were delivered to ship with big SCRAN labels painted on the outside.

Does The Royal Navy Use Slang To Describe Place names?

Yes. In fact, pretty much any location – past or present – that bears Royal Navy history tends to find itself with a unique matelot nickname. Take a look at some popular place names and their slang equivalents:

Guz Devonport

Honky Fid Hong Kong

Pompey Portsmouth 

Singers Singapore 

This list is not comprehensive - so what would you add to the mix?