The Names of Things (non fiction excerpt)

The United States Navy is “The Navy” or “The Nav.”

 A Sailor is a Sailor (with the 1st letter capitalized).

A Sailor is also a “squid.” It’s an older term or insult, and one which never bothered me. Back in the day, when the working uniform was largely in shades of blue, we were called “Smurfs” occasionally. 

The United States Marine Corps is “The Corps.” “USMC” is unmistakable for “The Corps.”

A Marine is a Marine (with the 1st letter capitalized).

A Marine is always and forever a Marine. Those who have been properly initiated might call a male Marine a “jarhead” (for his “high and tight” haircut). If the wrong person uses the term, it can be viewed as an insult.

Sailors and Marines are not Soldiers. Men and women who serve in the Army are Soldiers.

A warship is a ship. A boat is normally a smaller watercraft. A boat can also be a submarine.

Ships gain nicknames, and these are frequently derogatory. After a massive fire on USS Forrestal in the late 1960’s, the aircraft carrier became known as the “USS Forest Fire.” I’d heard Peleliu (LHA-5) referred to as “This Pig” and it wasn’t affectionate. USS Lincoln, one of the newer aircraft carriers, became “Stinkin’ Lincoln” as early as 2003.

“Landlubber” is an old word for men who haven’t been to sea, or who aren’t familiar with the sea. I’m surprised that it isn’t considered archaic; but there it is in my dictionary.

What landlubbers call the floor is the “deck.” Likewise, the ceiling is the “overhead” and walls are “bulkheads.” A room is a “compartment.” Doors are “watertight hatches” or “non-watertight hatches.” A bathroom is a “head.” Many of these terms carry over to buildings ashore on Naval Bases or Marine Corps Bases, and are used by Sailors and Marines alike.

Life at Sea

“Gear” consists of items of a professional or personal nature – including equipment. Gear not stowed, tied down or otherwise secured is “gear adrift.” If a Sailor doesn’t stow, tie down, or otherwise secure gear for sea, he or she is making a fundamental error in life at sea and is allowing for the possibility of  “missile hazards.” Additionally, the Sailor doesn’t have “attention to detail.”

On shipboard, junior Sailors are quartered in “berthing compartments.” They sleep in “racks” on inch thick mattresses over their “coffin lockers.”

Chief Petty Officers (called “Chiefs”) are berthed in the Chiefs’ berthing compartment. While Chiefs also have coffin lockers, their mattresses are two or three inches thick.

The contingent of Chief Petty Officers on a ship is known as the “Chiefs’ Mess.”

Officers are berthed in “staterooms.” The contingent of officers on a ship is known as the “Wardroom.”

There are separate kitchens or “galleys” for junior enlisted Sailors, Chief Petty Officers, and Officers.

Junior Sailors eat on the “Mess Decks.” The food is usually standard fare but occasionally a delicious, memorable meal will be served. Let’s see: there’s “roast beast” for roast beef and   “sliders” for hamburgers. The term “bug juice” was used for the flavored sugar water made from powdered mix packets. “Bug juice” was also handy for stripping off verdigris or oxidation from brass and other metal fittings.

Chiefs eat in the “Chiefs’ Mess.” Officers eat in the “Wardroom.”

A “black shoe” is a Sailor in surface ratings or an officer with a surface designator. A “brown shoe” is a Sailor in aviation ratings or a pilot or flight officer.

A “blue shirt” is a junior enlisted Sailor.

A hat is a “cover.” For junior enlisted men, covers are ball caps or white hats. The white hat was sometimes called a “dog dish.” Other covers are “combination covers” or “garrison caps.”

A weapon is a “piece.”

Cryptologic Technicians are CT’s or “Cryppies.” Some others: Electronics Technicians are “Tweets.” Intelligence Specialists are “Spooks.” 

Context is always important. A Junior Officer O-1 to O-3 is a “JO.” A Journalist is also a “JO.” 

The Pacific Fleet is PacFlt.  

Pacific Fleet Sailors go on deployments to the Western Pacific, Indian Ocean, and beyond. “WestPac” has fallen out of favor, mainly because Navy ships steam much further, into the Indian Ocean and the Persian Gulf.

Marines do go on deployments; Marines are more likely to refer to “floats.”

The wives and girlfriends left behind by their Sailors are called “WestPac Widows.” On deployment, some Sailors and some of the wives and girlfriends take advantage of this lack of proximity.

Whatever the names of things I can assure you that as long as there is a United States of America there will be a United States Navy and a United States Marine Corps. These remain inextricably linked.

Sailors and Marines will be in harm’s way or will be prepared to go in harm’s way.

Their loved ones will wait anxiously for their Sailors and Marines to return to homeport.

Andrew Shattuck McBride, July 26, 2010

About Andrew Shattuck McBride

I am a writer, editor, writing coach, and consultant. I work in a variety of genres, including poetry, short stories, and creative non-fiction. I also have a couple of novels simmering on back burners. THANK YOU to Nan Macy of Village Books for taking this photo (June 2011).
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2 Responses to The Names of Things (non fiction excerpt)

  1. Jim Milstead says:

    I enjoyed this. I never paid much attention to taxonomic distinctions. I was nauseous
    EVERY day that I was on board, and couldn’t wait to regain blessed terra firma. My father sailed with the Merchant Marine for 11 years, and apparently enjoyed his experience. As far as I know, he never set foot on another ship after he permanently returned to land. He loved the desert, hot, dry, unrelenting temperatures.
    Last night’s Storyteller’s reading went well with my favorite author(ha) bathed in praise. It’s nice to feel that something is going right.

    While I was in the Corpse I had expectations of receiving some useful training, but this was too much to expect. The military service enabled me to begin college under the GI Bill, for which I shall be forever grateful.

    The discipline outside the services is patently less harsh, but the need for conformance to existing (often whimsical) standards is clearly defined.

    Retirement is the course of duty that is most appealing to me.

    Happy Creations,


    • Hi Jim, thank you so much for your comments.

      I may have to find a way to get your phrase “The Corpse” into this collection of stories! Dad went to school on the G.I. Bill also, and obtained his B.S. in Geology and started work on an M.S. in Astronomy. With a wife and two kids (Andy was in the future!), Dad had to start working!

      I’m delighted to read that your writing is going well and that you are receiving praise. You receiving praise doesn’t surprise me!

      Here’s to continued success in your writing!

      All the best, Andy

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