Do You Know the Meaning of These Military Terms?


By: Torrance Grey

6 Min Quiz

Image: shutterstock

About This Quiz

In the military, people speak differently from civilians -- and this has been the case from the earliest days of human warfare. War isn't like any other human activity, and it required a whole new vocabulary to describe the weapons, the tactics and the strategies. 

In modern times, the Pentagon (and similar bodies around the world) has been accused of using abstract language to cover up the brutal realities of war -- for example, calling civilian deaths "collateral damage" and torture "enhanced interrogation techniques." On the other end of the spectrum, the regular enlisted soldiers come up with their own colorfully honest slang: "bang out" for eject from an aircraft or escape a tight situation, or "on your six" to mean being pursued. Sometimes these terms slip into civilian language, like the overused "mission accomplished," or a "scorched-earth policy." Even when military terms don't enter into popular use, civilians learn them from books and movies. 

Which brings us to this quiz: 35 questions about the language of the military, whether official or colorful. Do you know what a "klick" measures or what you'd find in a canteen? (Other than water, we mean ... there's more than one kind of canteen). Good luck -- we promise if you do poorly, you won't have to drop and give us 20!

A place where an operation is set up is called a/an ______.

Like many military terms, this one has made its way into civilian life. A staging area is where officers and troops assemble, stash their supplies, and so on.


A specific assignment with a goal is called a/an ______.

"The mission" is a very basic and important concept in military life. The words "mission accomplished" mean a lot more to soldiers than they do in casual civilian use.


Military action on a larger, ongoing scale is called a/an ______.

Of course, the broadest term is simply "war." But not all military operations are part of a declared war, and a war will have several, sometimes many, operations. World War II's more famous operations included Torch, Fortitude and Overlord.


To attack the enemy from the side is to attack their _____.

A flanking maneuver is an attack from the side. To be "outflanked" is to let the enemy gain a position on your side, usually one from which you are vulnerable.


To remove troops from an area is usually called a _______.

This differs from "retreat" in that retreat is done in the context of a battle. A withdrawal is a more tactical decision: sometimes an area will no longer be strategically important, so troops are withdrawn.


What is a bivouac?

A "bivouac" is a very basic camp. It's usually a place to stay for just one night.


A broad line of troops facing the enemy shoulder-to-shoulder is called a ________.

Domestic police also use this phrase, usually in times of civil unrest. Riot police facing a disorderly protest will make a skirmish line to keep protesters from gaining further ground.


This French term essentially means "supplies."

This word is roughly equivalent to "inventory" in civilian life. It can mean weapons, provisions, et cetera.


A strategy of destroying civilian resources and infrastructure to keep the enemy from using them is called a _________ policy.

This term comes from ancient warfare, in which scorched earth could not be sown with new seed for a while. In World War II, the French partisans destroyed their own civilian resources, to keep the occupying Germans from using them.


Sinking a ship to prevent its capture by the enemy is called ______.

Though the ship is undeniably submerged, the proper term is "scuttling." Something similar to this happened in the operation to kill Bin Laden: a crashed helicopter was burned to keep American technology out of Pakistani hands.


What is "recon" short for?

Reconnaissance is the act of patrolling an area in secret, to gain information about the features of the territory or enemy presence. It's derived from the French word "connaissance," meaning "knowledge" or "familiarity."


What does "rank and file" refer to?

A "rank" is troops lined up abreast. A "file" is what civilians commonly call a "line," troops lined up one behind the other. The general term "rank and file" has come to mean everyday enlisted troops.


Surrounding a city or camp, with hopes of choking off supplies, is called _____.

Siege warfare is an ancient tactic. It can be particularly brutal on civilians, as food and medical supplies run low.


Another term for siege is ________.

"Blockade" refers to having all roads in and out covered. "Investment" is a more general term for "siege," though civilians associate this word with money, not warfare.


A long-term post where soldiers are stationed, often in captured territory, is a ______.

You'll hear this word often when studying the history of the Roman empire. Because they conquered such large areas, the Romans kept garrisons everywhere.


Which of these is a safe spot for a soldier under fire?

Foxholes are dug into the ground, and provide a safe place for soldiers when under fire. A popular saying goes, "There are no atheists in foxholes."


Which term means a dangerous open space where the enemy can be picked off?

An open beach or plain that an army unit has covered is a killing field. However, the term has become widely associated with the atrocities in Cambodia, which were part of a genocide, not a war with a foreign belligerent.


A mortar is a type of ______.

A mortar fires shells. They can be enormous and heavy, or light and portable (since World War I, at least).


A foothold gained (and hopefully expanded) in enemy territory is called a/an _______.

"Lodgement" is the broad term for a beachhead (when it is a landing point) or a bridgehead (when it is the space at the end of a bridge, which is often a crucial point in transport of troops and materiel.).


What is "intel"?

"Intel" is short for intelligence. It's information, often gathered via espionage, used in planning operations.


Missiles or projectiles used in battle are called ______.

"Artillery" is the broad term that can include anything from arrows to missiles. It's also one of the branches of the US Army, like Infantry or Military Police.


Which of these is the smallest?

An army (or other branch of the military) is divided into a number of units, including company, battalion, division and corps. A "fire team" is just two or three people. So small, in fact, that it's almost an unofficial concept -- like a soldier and his "battle buddy."


What does a "klick" measure?

A "klick" is slang for a kilometer. It just sounds a little cooler to say "a few klicks down the road" than "a few kilometers."


What kind of warfare did World War I rely heavily on?

The war on the Western Front relied greatly on trench warfare. Trenches provided a certain amount of cover for troops in the field, while modern artillery allowed them to fire on the enemy from a distance.


Approximately how many soldiers make up a "field army"?

This term is a little confusing. An army, in general, is the land-fighting force of a whole nation. But within that, "army" can refer to a large subunit. This is often the entirety of a fighting force in one theater of a war. During World War II, for example, the U.S. Fifth Army fought in the Italian campaign.


Soldiers who fight on foot are called the _______.

This is a very large branch of the U.S. Army, due to the fact that it takes little specialized training (but lots of endurance and strength). Infantry make up a lot of an Army's "grunts" or "rank and file."


If a battle is "pitched," what is it?

While in civilian speech a "pitched battle" is a particularly fierce one, this isn't the military meaning. It's a battle where both sides know where they'll be engaging and have the ability to plan. These battles tend to be longer and harder-fought than accidental skirmishes, hence the informal meaning.


What is an XO?

An "XO" is the second-in-command to a CO, the commanding officer. Fans of the 2003 "Battlestar Galactica" remake might know this term from the colorful character of Saul Tigh, the deeply flawed XO to Commander Adama.


An unwanted gap in a battle formation or supply line is a _____.

This word has more than one meaning in the military. A lapse in good conduct is also called a "breach." Both uses imply a failing.


A weapon that can hit targets further away than hand-to-hand distance is called a _____ weapon.

Early ranged weapons included bows and arrows; nowadays; they include missiles with extremely long ranges. Which brings up a question most of us have had since seeing "Avengers: Infinity War": If we have missiles that can be fired from the other side of the planet, why are the Avengers always straight-up running at their enemies?


Which of these does the term "ordnance" not include?

Ordnance is a broad term encompassing weaponry, ammunition, and the devices and machines that support it. (We suppose you could argue that food is essential to weaponry, as an army fights on its stomach ... but for the purposes of this quiz, no).


What is a DMZ?

A demilitarized zone is a neutral zone, where neither side patrols or stations troops. Perhaps the most famous one is the 38th Parallel, the dividing line between North and South Korea.


Which of these terms is closely related to "armory"?

An armory is a storage facility for weapons and related supplies. A magazine is more specifically for explosives and powder.


"Adjutant" is the military term for _______.

Really, they could just say "assistant." But this is one of those cases in which the military has its own special word for something common, similar to "materiel."


Other than a unbreakable water flask, what is a "canteen"?

"Canteen" can mean a bar, a snack bar, or a general store. It provides the nicer things in life for hardworking soldiers.


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