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June 17, 2016 / iDriveWarships

What did that Sailor Say? Common Expressions of the Surface Force


U.S. Navy Sailors enjoy liberty ashore at Hamilton. Photo credit: U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command (NH 121387)

As with many careers, the professional maritime environment comes with its own vernacular. Indeed the U.S. Navy Surface Force has a variety of common words and phrases that can be downright confusing to land-lovers.

Sailors say things like haze gray, gedunk, scuttlebutt, bulldog away; the list goes on and on. But what does it all mean??

Some common terms are shortened versions of sayings from long ago. “Haze gray” comes from the longer phrase “haze gray and underway,” which refers to both the flat gray color scheme of surface ships (that makes them harder to see from a distance) and being “underway” or out to sea. Sailors often use both the short and long versions of this saying to describe surface ships that are currently or will shortly be going to sea.


Sailors gather at the gedunk (soda fountain and store) of USS Brooklyn (CL 40) Jan. 18, 1938. Photo credit: U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command

While haze gray, Sailors might take a break and enjoy some gedunk, or snacks. The term’s origins are debatable. “Gedunk bar” appeared in Leatherneck Magazine in 1931 and was a popular World War II term to describe the location where service members could purchase snacks and drinks when the regular dining areas were closed. It may have come from the sound a vending machine makes when a purchased candy bar hits the opening tray, or from a corruption of the German “ge tunk,” which means to repetitively dip something. Supposedly this idea dates back to the practice of improving stale bread’s taste by dunking it into milk. Whatever the origin, Sailors now use gedunk to describe both the area where snacks are purchased and the snacks themselves.


Chief Engineman Alex Daplas and Chief Religious Programs Specialist Redor Rufo, Both newly pinned chief petty officers, serve ice cream during a karaoke and ice cream social abord the amphibious assault ship USS Making Island (LHD 8). (U.S. Navy Photos By: Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Christopher Fairbanks/Released) 100918-N-6382F-014

While indulging in some gedunk, Sailors might discuss the latest “scuttlebutt.” Not to be confused with the mouse villain from the movie ‘An American Tail: The Treasure of Manhattan Island,’ scuttlebutt is slang for gossip or rumors.

In the middle of a good scuttlebutt session, Sailors might shift to telling sea stories and recount the time when they were on board a ship that launched birds or a bulldog. Here context matters: a bird can be a generic term for a plane or refer to a missile. And a bulldog isn’t a bulldog at all, but rather a Harpoon cruise missile whose launch is confirmed with the term, “bulldog away.”

Just like other professions have their own common expressions, the U.S. Navy and her Surface Forces are no exception. Through the years Sailors have developed a rich glossary of terms for many items, directions and events. And that’s no scuttlebutt.


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