How to Speak U.S. Air Force

I watch TV shows and movies with military people in them just like everyone else. The problem is that the actors on these shows often have no military experience and this can lead to saying the lines incorrectly, i.e., “wrong reading.” It clangs in my ears just like it does in the ears of any other veteran who hears it. So, being clever, I thought I’d provide a brief guide to the military phrases most likely to cause trouble for actors.

Please note that military slang, lingo or profanity is often specific to a single service. It also varies wildly from country to country even if the countries speak the same language. I’ve heard the British version of a drill sergeant and I still can’t believe it. It’s hilarious.

To me. Because I’m used to ONE way of speaking military-speak. But it’s not universal. In general, though, if you have a part playing a person in the military and that person is not brain damaged or dead, you can’t go far wrong with these interpretations of common phrases.


“At ease” is the worst offender when it comes to making innocent actors look stupid. “At ease” means one thing and one thing only. It means “shut up.” “Shut your pie hole and listen up.” “BE QUIET OR ELSE!” That’s what it means. Say it like it means that and you can’t go wrong. Just remember the many ways that we can say “be quiet.” It’s not always angry, but it always means shut up.


No, I’m not kidding. This is a phrase you hear over and over again and it has a very specific meaning. It means “I do not know, and I am not SUPPOSED to know.” This is an important distinction. If you are SUPPOSED to know something, and you don’t, then the correct answer is “I don’t know but I’ll find out.” It’s that simple. A general walks up to the airman and asks “What is the name of my sister’s cat?” The correct reply is “I have no idea, sir.” I’ve heard “I have no idea” so often I forgot that could ever sound rude. It was just a normal part of speech. When you get a script that was written by a veteran, and it contains the phrase “I have no idea”–now you know why.


This is a flat-out insult (in the United States Air Force). You say it behind the back of the incompetent boob they put in charge yesterday. Now that you, as an actor with a bit part on a military TV show, understand that, you can avoid any and all tendencies to improvise “Sarge” where the script says “sergeant.” By the way, it means, literally, incompetent.


It means that something on a checklist worked as it should. The word “good” in this case means “operational” or functional. It does not mean “better than average” or “pleasingly checked.” Say it with a bucket of boredom. Leslie Nielsen’s wrong reading of “checked good” in Forbidden Planet is one part of that film I wish they’d accidentally lost (instead of the parts they did lose).


Incredibly, this is only word commonly spoken by enlisted personnel that does NOT have a sexual connotation. The letter “R” used to be represented by the word “ROGER.” Saying ROGER meant “R” which stood for “received.” This bled into face-to-face speech and so we get Tiger Woods saying “roger that” because his father was in the Air Force. The phrase “roger that” means “you bet” or “I agree” or even “amen.”


Nobody ever says “wilco.” Do not say “wilco.”


An F-4 Phantom is a hog. NOT a rhino. I’ve never heard an F-4 referred to as a “rhino.” It’s an aircraft or a plane or a hog (or maybe a pig). An F-16 is a pig. None of the cutesy names given to the F-16 can replace its true appellation–PIG. I cringe whenever I see somebody on a model forum calling an F-4 a “rhino.” Just stop. Stop the hurting. At ease. Maybe aircrew call F-4’s rhinos and F-16’s vipers but that’s why they’re only allowed to play with the aircraft for a few hours each day.

On the other hand, only ground crew are allowed to refer the aircraft as pigs or hogs. Anybody else is asking for it. This means you, Sarge.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.