The Navy has a language all its own.  Sure we use English words (for the most part), but that doesn’t mean that we string them together in a way that the average person would understand.  Also we use words that mean something completely different when we use them than when the general population does.  Then there are the acronyms.  We have tons of them and are developing new ones every day.  After almost 20 years I am still learning new ones.  Essentially an acronym is a word (though not necessarily a real word) made of the parts of other words.

                I realize that I have readers who have never served in the Navy, or our special cousin, the Marines, and may not understand some of the phrases that are used.  For the sake of brevity in my essays I rarely define Navy jargon.  Instead I have developed a Glossary so you can quickly reference an unknown word(assuming I remembered to include it) or a word that is not being used in a traditional way.  This glossary will be updated as required (but probably never).


“A” School–  Kind of like a trade school.  “A” School teaches you the basics (or at least it’s supposed to) about your rating (job).  Upon graduating from “A” School you are assigned a rating which forms part of your rate (are you confused yet?)

Bow– The front or pointy end of the ship.

Captain’s Mast– (sometimes just called “mast”) Non-judicial punishment.   Kind of like a trial on the ship (or even a shore command) where the CO is judge and jury.   Since it is technically not a trial the rules of evidence do not apply.  The captain is limited in the punishments he can impose.  Normally this includes reduction in rate (same thing as rank but for enlisted personnel), forfeiture of pay, and restriction to the ship.  Yes, you can get grounded in the Navy.

Cheng–  (pronounced chang) Chief Engineer.   This is the Department Head for the Engineering department.  On my first ship the Cheng was of Chinese descent.  Before I realized that Cheng was simply an abbreviation for his job title, I thought it seemed pretty racist that everyone on the ship kept calling this senior officer “chang” just because he was Chinese.  When I mentioned this to my LPO, he calmly explained officer titles by laughing at me.

Commissary–  Grocery store on military bases.  The prices are usually better (and the selection usually worse) than out in town and allow the military families afford groceries no matter the local cost of living.  A seasoned shopper will know to avoid it around the 1st and 15th of the month (payday) since it is full of everyone who lives paycheck to paycheck.  I would sooner go to Disneyland on Memorial Day than the commissary on payday.

Diego Garcia–  This is an island in the middle of nowhere.

Forecastle– Pronounced fo’c’s’le or foke-sull for some unknown reason.  Generally (but not always) synonymous with the bow on the weather deck.  It is the location of deck equipment such as anchors, anchor chains, mooring equipment, and Boatswain’s Mates.  In the days of sail and oars there was a fort or castle-like structure on the bow for archers.  Just like every other name in the Navy, the name stuck long after forecastles were on the forecastle.

Good Idea Fairy–  The mythical cause to all the new “good ideas” that regularly pop up.  These good ideas will theoretically save time or money, but only after ridiculous amounts of money and time are invested to implement the good idea.  Signs are sometimes found on desks reading “The Good Idea Fairy will be shot on sight!”  Meetings will occasionally be concluded with, “There will be no further input from the Good Idea Fairy.”

Gun-deck– To falsify information, normally by failing to follow proper procedures or regulations.  The most common form of gun-decking is in signing off on a PMS check that has not been completed properly (although there are other forms of it).  The term dates back to the days of sail when Midshipmen would go to the gun deck (the deck below the main deck where the cannons were located) to calculate their celestial computations for fixing the ship’s position.  As they were out of sight of the ship’s officers, many would falsify the math, so that any calculation computed on the gun deck was rarely trusted.

Head–  Bathroom.  There are various explanations for the etymology of this one.  The general consensus is that in the days of sail, sailors would relieve themselves off the bow (i.e. the head) of the ship, since the wind was coming from the stern.

INSURV– Board of Inspection and Survey.   Inspection team tasked with conducting regular inspections on the material condition of naval ships.  This is a congressional mandated inspection to verify the country’s investment in its ships.  In other words, it is absolute hell.  Remember those dreams you had as a kid where you woke up and thought you had a term paper due?  I have these about INSURV.  When INSURV inspectors come aboard, sailors scatter faster than cockroaches when the lights come on.

MEPS– Military Entrance Processing Station.  This is where you officially enter the military.  Your recruiter takes you here for aptitude testing, medical examination (let’s just say they are very thorough… they leave no peak or valley unexplored), drug tested, receive waivers for failing drug tests, and it is where you take the oath of enlistment.  You also choose (more accurately, are assigned) your rating after reading a vague description on a 8×10″ card.

PMS–  Planned Maintenance System.  This is Navy shorthand for maintenance to be conducted on equipment on the ship as part of the Navy’s 3M maintenance program.  In the rest of the world PMS means something completely different and new sailors have a brief chuckle about the abbreviation; after that no one even bats an eye when you mention the PMS you have this week.

Rating– Enlisted job specialty, often, incorrectly, referred to as “rate.”  Enlisted Sailors heavily identify with their rating.  In 2016 the Secretary of the Navy decided to abolish the Naval rating system and shift to a system similar to the Army and Marine Corps MOS system.  What followed was the single best example of solidarity in the entire Navy, as the entire enlisted ranks protested in outrage resulting in a quick rescinding of the policy.

Seabag–  Duffel bag issued to sailors in boot camp to keep their uniforms for travel and can be flattened and stowed under the mattress when not in use.  The term seabag has come to mean the entire compliment of uniforms owned (or at least required to be owned) by an individual sailor.  Seasoned sailors can carry a fully loaded seabag the length of the pier before they are crushed by the weight.

Topsider–  Shipboard personnel who are not part of the Engineering Department, who spend there time topside and not in the engineering spaces.  This term could be considered either endearing or pejorative depending on how it is used.

Weather Deck– Any part of the ship that is outside and therefore exposed to the weather.

WWWDWA– What Would We Do Without Acronyms.  This is the cry of desperation after listening to an entire conversation made up of 95% acronyms, and realizing you have no idea what was said.