Special Report

Popular Phrases That Originated in the Military

1. “Above and beyond the call of duty”

This phrase originally referred to acts of bravery that go beyond what’s expected of a military serviceman or -woman. It originated during World War I and came to be used to describe Medal of Honor recipients.

Source: energyy / E+ via Getty Images

2. “Balls to the wall”

The popular saying has nothing to do with what you might think. It refers to military aircraft, in particular older aircraft. A pilot’s control levers had spheres, or balls, at the end of them. When pilots flew at top speed, they’d push the levers to their limit. The “balls” would be pushed toward the “wall” of the aircraft.

Source: Paul Thompson/FPG / Archive Photos via Getty Images

3. “Bite the bullet”

The phrase “bite the bullet” might date from the Civil War. Because of the lack of anesthetics or other pain-numbing medicine at the time, soldiers on both sides of the conflict used the term to refer to enduring pain without making noise, and would literally bite down on a bullet while undergoing a procedure.

Source: U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Summer Dowding MAWTS-1 COMCAM / Released

4. “Boots on the ground”

“Boots on the ground” is a relatively new phrase, used to describe soldiers physically in a combat zone. According to William Safire in a 2008 “On Language” column in the New York Times, a U.S. Army historian found a reference to the expression, attributed to General Volney Warner, in a Christian Science Monitor story written during the Iranian hostage crisis.

Source: zepperwing / E+ via Getty Images

5. “Brass”

“Brass” originally meant higher-ranked military officers – possibly a reference to the decorative metal insignias on the uniforms of 19th-century British soldiers and their later American counterparts.

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