Naval Terminologies Decoded!

Long before WhatsApp, LMAO & ROFL were invented, naval personnel had a fulsome dictionary of acronyms.

They were used for wide purpose; from paying a backhanded compliment to spanking a posterior covered in white, gaberdine clothing.

‘Flashing’ today means something terrible, a punishable offence. In the navy, ‘flashing’ means using light signals to pass a message between warships. Before commissioning into the navy, we were required to learn ‘flashing‘ and ‘semaphore‘.

No, semaphore is not a medical condition or that variable from computer science used to solve critical section problems. In the navy, it’s something you do with signalling flags, sticking them out at unique angles🙆🏻‍♂️ each conveying a letter from the English alphabet. When read together it makes a complete mess(age). It is www-agnostic, doesn’t need a 4G connection or mobile telephoney. Just two sets of eyes, flags and arms.

Those of you in love in 2019, why not propose via ‘semaphore’ instead of ‘flashing’ 😜?

Image courtesy ‘The Adventures of Tintin’ by Herge

When naval officials write signals (FROM), there are ‘action’ addressees and ‘information’ addressees. Being action addressee (TO) means “c’mon, get cracking with this”🤦🏽‍♂️, whereas INFO means “for information only” – like a WhatsApp group where you receive forwards nobody reads while wifey throws another laundry list at you for ACTION🙈

If you want to call-on a senior officer, you send an RTC, meaning ‘Request Time Convenient to call on you’ (like a friend request on Facebook?). You will hardly get disappointed because the senior officer will soon reply with a WDS, meaning ‘Would be Delighted to See You‘. We have lady officers too. Emojis such as 🥰 aren’t allowed as replies.

If you receive an invite for the most happening soiree in town, you respond with WMP. No way related to Bush, Trump or the fictional WMDs in Iran or Iraq; this one stands for ‘With Much Pleasure🤩.

If you want to politely snub the host or decline an order or proposal, you don’t need RSVP. Just send him an MRUMuch Regret, Unable to Comply. This acronym can also be deployed for showing attitude (with expected results). Your wish for ‘fair winds & following seas’ may soon be granted. Good luck then with the Civvy Street!

If you want to thank someone the naval way, you need not bend and kiss his or her hand. Just say VMT, meaning Very Many Thanks😊.

If you want to pull up a junior, you send him a UCM, meaning ‘Can You Come See Me Now (or at’…) 🤨

The subtle difference between WDS & UCM is that here the junior will get a dressing down in full ceremonial attire (Dress No. 2). Expect fireworks – the digital type, involving all ten digits of the senior officer’s finely manicured hands.

If you want to reschedule the manslaughter, you send the senior an ICU😰. No, he doesn’t need critical care yet; it simply means ‘Can I Come & See You Now? (or at …)’? Needless to say, after the meeting you may require intensive care.🤕

Promotions at junior level are followed by a PLD or 🍻Pre-Lunch Drinks, hosted on a shoestring budget. Promotions at senior level usually calls for hoisting a ‘Gin Pennant‘ to celebrate your ascent over peers (or seniors😉) after deep selection. Basically it means ‘free drinks! come one, come all’. Such expensive parties are usually fielded by two or more promotees going dutch. Some adventurous officers throw one on their own. There, you drink and he gets the headache😩

If you want to break bad news gently, you use Much Regret to Inform followed by the breaking news. Please note that WTF is not an appropriate response to MRI (both abbreviations not in syllabus😉).

‘Davy Jones Locker = Bottom of the Sea! (Image courtesy ‘The Adventures of Tintin’ by Herge)

For example, if you ran aground or broke a ship in two, UCM or “Report to me at…” will usually precede a CM – Court Martial (basically your goose is cooked).

At the other end of that spectrum lies ‘BZ‘ or Bravo Zulu – used to applaud or commend an achievement (Shābāsh in Hindi). In a navy beset with ‘zero error syndrome’ if you complete your service without ever getting a UCM, then you surely deserve a Bravo Zulu!👏🏽👏🏽

When two warships meet at sea, the junior ship may ‘X-Ray Bows‘ (Zulu Hotel) the senior ship. It may sound like explicit content, but actually means ‘request permission to cross your bows‘. Sweet, isn’t it❤️? Bit like ‘Horn OK Please’ but with all the grace and respect of white uniform.

There are hundreds of such abbreviations & signaling codes, one for every occasion. Technology has rendered many of them obsolete. Flashing and semaphore have become like ‘trunk calls’ of yesteryears. Maritime Domain Awareness (MDA) networks have replaced pen and paper. NC1, the good old signal drafting form, is fighting for survival against the onslaught of computers, tactical circuits and satellite phones. Who knows, emojis may be up next?😁

You can now snitch on seniors via WhatsApp or ‘court’ trouble if you have a grouse. You can snoop on the boss’s wife through her FB page. Of course, if you do that you will most likely invite a ‘bamboo‘, delivered upon a painful part of your anatomy. As a familiar fauji aphorism goes: “bambu bambu on the grass, why not up my a*s?” 😈

All said and done, nothing compares to the joy of being miles out of mobile range, deep into the ocean, sailing with the men & women in whites who carry themselves with utmost grace and poise, even in Sea State 6 where landlubbers go ‘OMG‘! 😱

If you had a LOL moment reading this, do write to me. VMT for everything. I await your feedback WMP 🙏🏼

Image courtesy ‘The Adventures of Tintin’ by Herge


©KP Sanjeev Kumar, 2019. All rights reserved. I can be reached at Views are personal. Images scanned from my personal collection of ‘The Adventures of Tintin’ by Herge.

8 thoughts on “Naval Terminologies Decoded!

  1. VMT sir, the white uniforms exist in a beautiful world built by traditions and customs savoured over centuries of living at sea. Something you have to live to be part of, and to be able to comprehend the nuances of.

  2. Bravo Zulu KP….. a lovely sneek peek into the nautical world for all land lubbers…

  3. Bravo Zulu. Naval Terminology explained with tongue in cheek. Enjoyed it. Best wishes.

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