Drill Sergeant Shouting Stirling Castle Guardsman Guard (Crown Copyright - Mark Owens, MoD)
Military Life

'Back Home In Time For Tea And Medals': The Five Strangest Military Phrases

What are some of the strangest military phrases out there, and where did they come from?

Drill Sergeant Shouting Stirling Castle Guardsman Guard (Crown Copyright - Mark Owens, MoD)

The military is a place filled with quirks which, to the civilian, might seem incomprehensible or downright bizarre.

It just goes to show that, from to the strange traditions to the language itself, there’s a lot more to belonging to this special club than wearing the uniform.

But what are some of the strangest military phrases out there, and where did they come from?

Phrase: “Cold enough to freeze the balls of a brass monkey”

Meaning: It’s really cold.

Origin: The widely circulated origin of this phrase is that, back in the 18th century, the brass supports which held the stacks of cannon balls were known as monkeys and that, in cold weather, the metal would contract, causing the balls to fall off.

Whilst it’s debated as to whether this is the true origin of the phrase, it would at least make some sense... So we’ll leave it at that.

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Phrase: “Get your s**t in one sock”

Meaning: Get your act together.

Origin: A “sock” is a Navy term meaning sea bag. A sailor who was messy and disorganised wouldn’t have his belongings ready in one bag for deployment, meaning he needed to “get his s**t in one sock”. 

 

Phrase: To “schneeb

Meaning: To fly very low to avoid the bad weather above.

Origin: There’s not much information out there on this one, but the German word for snow is “schnee”- suggesting that this one originated with the German language and comes from the fact that you would fly beneath the cloud to avoid bad weather such as snow or “schnee”.

 

Phrase: “Home in time for tea and medals”

Meaning: What you have to look forward to at the end of a sortie.

Origin: Like many phrases used in the military, this one originated in “Blackadder Goes Forth”, specifically the episode in which the boys join the Royal Flying Corps and discover that the 'Twenty Minuters' are known as such as this is the amount of time they can expect to spend in the air before being shot down and killed.

The phrase, spoken by the hapless George, is: 

George: Crikey, sir. I'm looking forward to today. Up diddly up, down diddly down, whoops, poop, twiddly dee - decent scrap with the fiendish Red Baron - bit of a jolly old crash landing behind enemy lines - capture, torture, escape, and then back home in time for tea and medals

A huge hit with the forces, Blackadder’s black humour translates very well into the real military world and into their phraseology.

 

Phrase: “Swinging the lantern”

Meaning: Telling military stories (often exaggerated).

Origin: The full phrase is actually “pull up a sandbag and swing the lantern” and refers to the lamps hung from the deck’s beams which would swing whilst the ship was out at sea.