19 terms only sailors will understand

Orvelin Valle
Updated onJan 4, 2023 9:04 AM PST
3 minute read
Navy photo


All sailors, from the “old salts” to the newly initiated are familiar with the following terms: Chit: A chit in the Navy refers to any piece of paper from a form to a pass and even currency. According to the Navy history…

All sailors, from the "old salts" to the newly initiated are familiar with the following terms.

These are 19 terms only sailors will understand

1. Chit

A chit in the Navy refers to any piece of paper from a form to a pass and even currency. According to the Navy history museum, the word chit was carried over from the days of Hindu traders when they used slips of paper called "citthi" for money.

Photo: Kibbe Museum

2. Scuttlebutt

The Navy term for water fountain. The Navy History Museum describes the term as a combination of "scuttle," to make a hole in the ship's side causing her to sink, and "butt," a cask or hogshead used in the days of wooden ships to hold drinking water; thus the term scuttlebutt means a cask with a hole in it.

Photo: Wikimedia

3. Crank

The term used to describe a mess deck worker, typically a new transferee assigned to the mess decks while qualifying for regular watch.

Photo: U.S. Navy

4. Cadillac

This is the term used to describe a mop bucket with wheels and a ringer. When sailors are assigned to cleaning duties, they prefer the luxurious Cadillac over the bucket.

5. Knee-knockers

A knee-knocker refers to the bottom portion of a watertight door's frame. They are notorious for causing shin injuries and drunken sailors hate them.

Photo: Bob Perry

6. Comshaw

The term used when obtaining something outside of official channels or payment, usually by trading or bartering. For example, sailors on a deployed ship got pizza in exchange for doing the laundry of the C-2 Greyhound crew that flew it in.

*Younger sailors may use the term "drug deal" instead of comshaw.

Photo: U.S. Navy

7. Gear adrift

The term used to describe items that are not properly stowed away. The shoes in this picture would be considered gear adrift. Also sometimes phrased as "gear adrift is a gift."

Photo: U.S. Navy

8. Geedunk

The term sailors use for vending machine and junk food.

Photo: Exostratics

9. Snipe

The term used to describe sailors that work below decks, usually those that are assigned to engineering rates, such as Machinists Mates, Boilermen, Enginemen, Hull Technicians, and more.

Photo: U.S. Navy

10. Airdale

These are sailors assigned to the air wing — everyone from pilots down to the airplane maintenance crew.

Photo: Howard Jefferson

11. Bubble head

The term sailors use to describe submariners.

Photo: U.S. Navy

12. Gun decking

Filling out a log or form with imaginary data, usually done out of laziness or to satisfy an inspection.

Photo: U.S. Navy

13. Muster

The term sailors use interchangeably for meeting and roll call.

Photo: U.S. Navy

14. Turco

The chemical used for washing airplanes.

Photo: U.S. Navy

15. Pad eye

These are the hook points on a ship's surface used to tie down airplanes with chains.

Photo: U.S. Navy

16. Mid-rats

Short for mid rations. The food line open from midnight to 6:00 a.m. that usually consists of leftovers and easy-to-make food like hamburgers, sandwich fixings, and weenies.

Photo: U.S. Navy

17. Roach coach

The snack or lunch truck that stops by the pier.

Photo: U.S. Navy

18. Bomb farm

Areas on the ship where aviation ordnancemen men store their bombs.

Photo: Wikimedia

19. Nuke it

The term used when a sailor is overthinking a simple task. Here's how the Navy publication, All Hands describes the term:

"The phrase is often used by sailors as a way to say stop over thinking things in the way a nuclear officer might. Don't dissect everything down to its nuts and bolts. Just stop thinking. But that's the thing; sailors who are part of the nuclear Navy can't stop. They have no choice but to nuke it."

Photo: U.S. Navy


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