Can You Define These US Navy Words in 6 Minutes?

By: John Miller
Estimated Completion Time
2 min
Can You Define These US Navy Words in 6 Minutes?
Image: Official Navy Page from United States of America MC2 Gary Granger Jr./U.S. Navy

About This Quiz

For centuries, sailors of the United States Navy have plied the world’s waters, defending America’s interests and projecting the nation’s military might. As they churn through the waves, they bandy about some colorful terms, phrases and descriptors that only sailors really know. In this barnacle-laden test, do you think you can blow through these Navy terms … or will you wind up three sheets to the wind?

Sailors work in disciplined routines to maintain and operate their ships. In peacetime, they use words like “quarterdeck,” “chit” and “aback” as part of their lexicon. Some terms, like “adrift” are pretty self-explanatory. Others, like “avast,” would be pretty vague to anyone who hasn’t been in the service (avast means to stop your current actions immediately). And of course, Navy life is full of adult-themed language, but we’ll have to save the racy stuff for another quiz.

Do you have any idea where the phrase “know the ropes” came from? It’s old sailor-speak for understanding your way around the ship. “Boats” is short for the boatswain’s mate, and “chips” an old slang term for the ship’s carpenter. Can you name other terms used to describe parts of ships and the men and women who sail them around the world?

Go full-speed ahead in this Navy terms quiz now! We’ll find out if you’re an old salt or if you’re a ricky who needs to get back to his swabbing station.

What does "fitrep" mean?
a medal for valor at sea
captain's quarters
fitness report
Maybe you should lay off of the fried whale blubber, sailor. Because your fitrep (fitness report) is pretty pathetic this year.

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What does "board" mean?
the act of going onto a ship
When you go onto a ship, you board it. You might be boarding a friendly vessel, or you might be forcing your way onto an enemy ship.
to torture someone
to eat oysters

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What does "small boy" mean?
an aircraft carrier
a small ship
Small-class ships are "small boys." Frigates and the like are dwarfed by the big guys, like aircraft carriers.
a small boy

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What does "ensign" mean?
a type of ship
a cook
an officer
An ensign is the lowest ranking commissioned officer in the Navy. The Army retired the ensign rank long ago.

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What is a "wire biter"?
illegitimate Navy offspring
Navy electrician
They're the guys you call when electrical systems go haywire. They're Navy electricians, and they know their AC from their DC.
aviator

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What does "warrant" mean?
a particularly short sailor
a warrant officer
"Warrant" is short for warrant officer. Warrants are typically experienced sailors who have in-depth knowledge of certain military matters.
the result of a port bar fight

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What does "bosun" mean?
admiral
boatswain
Boatswain is (rather oddly) pronounced "bosun." This is the sailor who has the responsibility of dealing with the ship's rigging and the crew. He or she is also called a Petty Officer.
captain

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What does "helmsman" mean?
sailor who steers the ship
The helmsman is a very important sailor. He or she is the person who steers the ship through waters both calm and rough.
a new recruit
raw starfish dinner

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What does "ahoy!" mean?
a whale greeting
a type of chocolate chip cookie
use to alert other sailors to something
Sailors use "ahoy!" as an alert signal. "Ship ahoy" would meant that a sailor has spotted another ship.

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What does "brig" mean?
cheap rum
jail
No sailor really wants to wind up in the brig. That's because "brig" is the universal term for the ship's jail.
barnacles

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In Navy terms what does it mean to "foul" something?
a type of fish served at sea
to snag a ship's lines
Ships need lines for mooring (and for other purposes). When those lines are fouled, they are snagged, tangled or otherwise causing massive exasperation.
a pitch that's hit into the Atlantic

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What does "head" mean?
deck of an aircraft carrier
front of the ship
restroom
Because looking at all of the water in the Pacific Ocean will really make you ill. The head is the ship's restroom.

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What does "gunwale" mean?
nuclear-tipped cruise missiles
the upper edges on the sides of a ship
Gunwale is pronounced "gunnel." It refers to the very top edge of the ship's sides.
whales armed with automatic weapons

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What does "jump ship" mean?
to desert ship
If you jump ship, you're deserting your ship. And if you get caught, you'll undoubtedly wind up in the brig.
a sailor who skips one rank to make Chief Petty Officer
a special ship made to jump over water obstacles

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What does "Seabee" mean?
below the ship's waterline
construction battalions
The Seabees are the Navy's specialized construction battalion. In peacetime and at war, these are the skilled men who build things -- anything -- that the Navy needs. And they fight, too.
SEAL troops

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What does "bear a hand" mean?
Tie up the sails.
Unleash the cannons.
lend assistance
In the Navy, teamwork is what keeps the ship running smoothly. To "bear a hand" is to lend assistance.

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What does "ricky" mean?
a sunken ship
a new recruit
A "ricky" is a new recruit or a sailor who's still in boot camp. Rickys can expect their first days in the Navy to be more that a little challenging.
a sailor's surprise offspring

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What does "bluejacket" mean?
an enlisted member below Chief Petty Officer
In the Navy, a "bluejacket" is an enlisted member below the rank of Chief Petty Officer.
battle uniform
the ship's big guns

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What does "bow" mean?
a huge sail
forward part of the ship
The bow is the most forward part of a Navy ship. If you don't know what the bow is, you probably won't last long in the service.
a primary ship weapon

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What does "above board" mean?
floating on the waves
in the crow's nest
in plain view
If something is "above board," it is in plain view for everyone to see. It's why legitimate and honest people are sometimes described as "above board."

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What does it mean to "turn-to"?
steer the ship into an iceberg
get to your tasks immediately
To "turn-to" means to get to work, immediately. And for those of you standing there looking slack-jawed, yes, we mean you.
go to bed

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What does "axial fire"?
weapons fire directed toward the ends of the ship
It's also called "raking fire." Axial fire is weapons fire that’s directed toward the ends of the ship.
a Navy fighter aircraft
a boiler room disaster

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What does "yardbird" mean?
a type of delicacy at sea
a lazy sailor
civilian shipyard workers
Yardbirds aren't sailors. They're the civilians who work in shipyards around the world.

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What does "swims" mean?
a relaxing sea party
a enemy attack
water survival training for aviators
Naval aviators realize that they could wind up slashing into the sea. That's why they're required to complete their "swims," a type of survival training for air crews.

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What does "swab" mean?
deck
.50-caliber gun
mop
All the new Navy guys get to love the swab … the mop. Because mopping is something you have to do to keep the ship clean.

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What does "swallow the anchor" mean?
get intoxicated
retire
This one's an old slang term. If you retire from the Navy, you "swallow the anchor." Your sailing days are over, swabbie.
stationed in Hawaii

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What does "zoomie" mean?
aviator
Zoomies are the aviators who take to the skies above the seas. Compared to ships, aircraft zoom around much, much faster.
a very fast ship
stomach distress caused by Navy food

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What does "eyes" mean?
part of the forecastle
On the upper deck of a sailing ship, you'll find the forecastle. The eyes are the most forward part of the forecastle.
what the ship's guns look like
part of the captain's face

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What does "gundecking" mean?
falsifying reports
These days, gundecking is slang for the act of falsifying type of Navy documentation. Get caught gundecking and you may get a Big Chicken Dinner.
a type of disgusting Navy meal
weapons polishing

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What does "black balls" mean?
vessel in cloaking mode
vessel aground
When a Navy vessel hangs three black balls from the mast, it's bad news. It means the ship has run aground.
vessel on fire

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