Military slang is colloquial language used by and associated with members of various military forces. This page lists slang words or phrases that originate with military forces, are used exclusively by military personnel, or are strongly associated with military organizations.
A number of military slang terms are acronyms. These include SNAFU, SUSFU, FUBAR and similar terms used by various branches of the United States military during World War II and beyond.
SNAFU, which stands for the sarcastic expression “Situation Normal: All F****d Up,” is a well-known example of military acronym slang. It is sometimes bowdlerized to all fouled up or similar. 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.
Time magazine used the term in their June 16, 1942 issue: “Last week U.S. citizens knew that gasoline rationing and rubber requisitioning were snafu.” Most reference works, including the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, supply an origin date of 1940-1944, generally attributing it to the U.S. Army.
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”.
The attribution of SNAFU to the American military is not universally accepted: it has also been attributed to the British, although the Oxford English Dictionary gives its origin and first recorded use as US military.
In a wider study of military slang, 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.”
SUSFU (Situation Unchanged: Still F****d Up) is closely related to SNAFU.
SNAFU and SUSFU were first recorded in American Notes and Queries in their September 1941 issue.
FUBAR (F****d Up Beyond All Recognition/any repair/all 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 ‘Fouled Up Beyond All Recognition.”
TARFU (Totally And Royally F****d Up or things are really f****d up) was also used during World War II.
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.
BOHICA (Bend Over, Here It Comes Again) is an item of acronym slang which grew to regular use amongst the United States armed forces during the Vietnam War. 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 US military forces, and is still commonly used by USAF fighter crew chiefs, its usage has spread to civilian environments, used to describe unavoidable, unpleasant situations that have inconvenienced one before and are about to yet again.
And one other addition:
REMF (Rear Echelon Mother F**ker) was never a term of endearment in Vietnam. Agreement on what was and who was a REMF is still being debated today. Those who used the term always set the dividing line as being short of where they stood. Grunts, without question, stood short of the line. For a grunt, the distinction was an easy one: if you lived behind wire, you were in the rear echelon. If you slept in a bed, ate hot food, took hot showers, used a flush toilet, and got laid regularly, you were a Mother F**ker.