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6 Military Terms That You Use Every Day Without Even Knowing It

If you’ve ever reached for a morning “cup of joe” or passed an exam “with flying colours,” you’re well on your way to becoming a military terms pro.

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American fighter plane in World War IIPhoto: Shutterstock

1. Blockbuster

During the Second World War, this modern-day term for a box-office hit had a more sobering definition: a bomb big enough to take out most of a city block.

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American naval ship from 1919Photo: Shutterstock

2. Cup of Joe

When Josephus Daniels was appointed secretary of the U.S. Navy in 1913, he banned alcohol from military ships. Legend has it that sailors began to refer to the hardest drink available to them—coffee—as a “cup of joe.”

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Civil war re-enactmentPhoto: Karyl Miller/Shutterstock

3. Deadline

Now a synonym for “due date,” “deadline” was originally used much more literally. During the Civil War, POWs were confined and surrounded by a deadline, so called because if a prisoner were to cross it, he could be shot dead.

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Soldier watching helicopter in junglePhoto: Shutterstock

4. Grunt Work

During the Vietnam War, American infantrymen took to calling one another “grunts.” One likely theory says “grunt” refers to the sound a soldier made when picking up heavy combat gear; another (less likely) says it was an acronym for “general rifleman, usually not trained.” In any case, grunt work became synonymous with tedious, thankless labour.

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Theodore RooseveltPhoto: Shutterstock

5. Loose Cannon

Theodore Roosevelt once told a journalist he didn’t “want to be the old cannon loose on the deck in the storm.” He referenced a time before fixed-turret guns, when ship cannons were mounted on wheels to roll between gun ports. A “loose cannon” could break free in choppy waters, endangering sailors.

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Naval ship in Halifax harbourPhoto: Jamie Roach/Shutterstock

6. With Flying Colours

If a naval ship returned to its home port after battle with its flags—or “colours”—still flying, that indicated victory. Today the phrase means to do something well.

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Originally Published in Reader's Digest Canada