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Origins of Military Words and Phrases
"Can you identify the true origin of well known phrases or words that sprang from military or naval backgrounds? Remember that usage may have altered since the word or phrase was first used."
15 Points Per Correct Answer - No time limit
What is the military origin of the word "aloof"?
To open the topsails for greater speed i.e. being taller, higher or prouder than
Major General Fitzroy Loof was a fierce and indomitable officer. Serving men, regardless of rank, would cower in his presence and so stand "aloof" of him
"Loofers" were a common brand name of a British cannon. To site these cannons within range of hitting the target, yet beyond range of the enemies weaponry, was to "stand aloof"
Derived from the order to the helmsman to steer away from a hazard by steering to the windward quarter or "luff"
What is the military origin of the phrase "swinging the lead"?
Measuring depth by lowering a lead weight on a measured rope over the side of a ship
Swinging heavy lead weights on a line as a footsoldier facing an advancing army was deemed a thankless order to be delegated to do
To strafe gunfire in a wide arc was to "swing the lead"
At times when one boarded a neighbouring enemy ship a lead weight was attached to a rope. The lead was swung to wrap around a mast or like object aboard the enemy ship to take grip and allow men to swarm across the rope and board her
What is the military origin of the phrase "run the gauntlet"?
The term used when a flotilla passed through narrow straits with enemy cannon sited on the land either side
First World War German sub-Officers would encircle a miscreant soldier and punish beat him with their studded leather gloves
Swedish crew would form two facing lines and thrash a miscreant amongst them with ropes as he ran between the two lines
Welsh longbowmen wore gauntlets to the elbow for protection when firing their weapons. To "run the gauntlet" was the order to draw back the string of a longbow in preparation for the order to fire
What is the military origin of the word "grenade"?
It derives from its similarity to a fruit called the "pomegranate"
The very first grenades were effectively sulphur gas bombs that gave off a toxic green gas. The original term used was "Greenade"
It is taken from the name of the Frenchman who invented it, Louis Grenardier (1678-1729)
The "Grenades" were a wild Balkan troop of brigands who made and used the first primitive grenades
What is the military origin of the word "deadline"?
To set a timed fuse on a bomb was called "setting the deadline"
A soldier placed on the front line of several ranks facing an enemy was said to be on the "deadline".
In the American Civil War prisoners would be shot on sight if they stepped over a line marked on the ground near a perimeter fence - this was the "deadline"
A World War I term for the forewardmost trench was a "deadline"
What is the military origin of the phrase "cut and run"?
The British Army in Africa would tie lines of potential slaves together and march them to a coastal fortress to await a slave ship. A slave who was able to cut him self from the line and escape was said to "cut and run"
In jungle warfare of yesteryears leeches were an immense problem, especially to legs. The Medical Officer would cut away a leech from a mans leg allowing him to continue his duties i.e. to "Cut and Run"
In the days when rum was an issued ration aboard Royal Navy ships a crew member who queued twice for his "cut" of rum would flee quickly once supplied a second time. He was said to take his "cut" of rum and "run"
When at anchor and subjected to an attack the captain would order the anchor line to be cut in order to escape rapidly
What is the military origin of the phrase "biting the bullet"?
Battlefield soldiers would brace themselves for the agony of a non-anaesthetised operation in the field by biting on the soft lead of a bullet
It was thought that saliva on a bullet oiled the barrel of a weapon thus preventing potentially fatal gun jams
Some soldiers of yesteryears would chew on the lead tip of a bullet believing it to have hallucinogenic properties, blissfully unaware that it created nothing but lead poisoning
In the American Civil War one really needed three hands to load the gunpowder, wad, bullet and then tamp down with a ramrod. Soldiers would hold the bullet in their teeth whilst they completed the process i.e. to bite the bullet was to prepare your weapon
What is the military popularly misconceived origin of the phrase "to freeze the balls off a brass monkey"?
A "brass monkey" was a ship mounted weather vane counterbalanced by brass balls. In extreme cold this vane would freeze and thus be inoperable
A "brass monkey" was a large triangular brass plate with holes in it upon which naval cannonballs would be piled. In cold weather the brass would contract and the cannonballs fall
A "brass monkey" was specialised cannon ammunition used to shred sails and dis-mast an enemy ship. Consisting of two cannonballs linked by chain they were not serviceable in extreme cold as the chains would be frozen together
A "brass monkey" was a derogatory term for a ships captain who declined to come on deck in the cold and who instead issued orders from the comfort of his cabin, using a "runner" to convey them
What is the military origin of the phrase "the balloon's gone up"?
A weather balloon would be hoisted on a line and would rise as indication of improving weather
A manned observation balloon has been hoisted on the front lines thus indicating that fresh intelligence is due in
A signal to ones own troops that a Zeppelin had crossed over from enemy lines and that attack from it may be imminent
In the First World War a balloon would be launched to signal the start of an offensive
What is the military origin of the phrase "at full tilt"?
A ship brought around sharply to deliberately list was able to fire its gunnery a greater distance from the higher side than had it been level and stable
A ship being chased would turn sharply to port or starboard to come around in an effort to come up behind the pursuing ship and so reverse roles. In so doing it would "tilt" sharply to one side in the water and is at "full tilt"
An officer in the First World War would sometimes wear his cap "tilted" at a jaunty angel. It demonstrated a confidence and self surredness in the officer. He is at full tilt. i.e. at his most confident
Derived from the days of jousting. The "tilt" was the long barrier seperating the two combatants
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Compiled Jul 25 13