If you can’t fly it, fuck it, or eat it, piss on it

A guest post by Karyl Krug, MA, JD, Esq.

A photo from the yearbook of the pilot training class of Captain Richard Krug

Ever since the publication of Tom Wolfe’s book The Right Stuff, people the world over have thought that “screw the pooch” is a phrase commonly used by American military aviators when something goes wrong. I’m here today to tell you it ain’t so. Someone screwed the pooch on that one. Sorry, I mean they fucked the dog.

As Ben Zimmer wrote in Slate, references to “screw the pooch” prior to the publication of The Right Stuff are “surprisingly difficult to find.” This doesn’t surprise me. Euphemism isn’t the order of the day for flyboys. My husband flew giant transports in and out of Vietnam for the U.S. military until Ho Chi Minh blew up the airport in Saigon. He learned some very colorful turns of phrase from that massive shit show, and I learned them from him. I used to use them as a criminal lawyer in Austin, but now I’m in Arizona I’ll face penalty if I do. So here’s my gift for you: A little glossary of coarseness from a Vietnam pilot.

If you can’t fly it, fuck it, or eat it, piss on it
A military pilot’s needs are simple, and this phrase is self-explanatory. If your significant other is a pilot, you know where you stand.

Clusterfuck, also known as Charlie Foxtrot
A shit show by any other name. In my humble opinion, this is the single most useful phrase to come out of the Vietnam era. When I first started practicing criminal law as a defense attorney, a lawyer and Vietnam vet told me: “Kid, every criminal trial is a clusterfuck. The judge hates you, the prosecutor hates you, the jury hates you, and your client hates you.”

Tits up
It’s broken, fucked up, or needs to be fixed. “The air mix valve is tits up.” If you’re in a landing airplane and parts are coming off as you barrel down the runway, then something is “tits up.” “Floaters,” or drowned persons, or dead bodies generally, often assume the tits-up position, and that’s where we get this.

Steam and cream
A place in Southeast Asia where you can get a hot bath or steam massage, during which a nice and probably bored lady jerks you off.

I shit you not
This is military speak for “seriously.”

SNAFU: Situation normal, all fucked up
This one has been covered in previous articles and used in previous wars. It is a classic that will never fall out of use.

TARFU: Things are really fucked up
If you have been overrun by Charlie, and, say, have to fight the enemy inside a MASH (Mobile Army Surgical Hospital) or medical unit tent while wounded soldiers are lying everywhere, then things are really fucked up.

FUBAR: Fucked up beyond all recognition
Another description of chaos under fire. See TARFU.

FIGMO: Fuck I’ve got my orders or Fuck it, got my orders
This is a phrase that means “I’m outta here and therefore have zero fucks left to give about this job.” Military guys are just like any other person who slacks off at the job after they’ve given their notice.

Every swinging dick
This is similar to “all hands on deck,” but more colorful. This phrase has been imported into the legal world and other professional situations to describe a bunch of egotistical male chauvinists at the alleged top of their game.

Cunt cap
The required military cap that folds flat and fits in the pocket of a flight suit when one is not absolutely required to wear it.

Flight suit. Probably so called because, as one ascends, bodily gases must be allowed to escape. Farting is a necessary job skill for pilots. Gloves also make handy puke bags when motion sickness sets in.

Fox Oscar
Military alphabet euphemism for “fuck off.”


12 thoughts on “If you can’t fly it, fuck it, or eat it, piss on it

  1. Dr Ruth 2point0 January 15, 2016 / 4:59 am

    I love tits up! also an adorable British turn of phrase! lol


  2. James Slick January 15, 2016 / 5:03 am

    Favorite thing I read all day. Tell your husband “Thank You” for his service!

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Karyl Krug January 15, 2016 / 5:54 am

    Thanks. I will. It was impossible to raise our son around this man. The kid dropped his first f-bomb at age three. 20 years later, they both curse like sailors . . . I mean aviators.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. יובל פינטר January 15, 2016 / 7:26 am

    The IDF has a proverb reminiscent of the first entry here (though clean):

    If it moves, salute it;
    If it doesn’t move, lift it;
    If you can’t lift it, paint it.

    And another trio just for bonus:
    Wet is clean;
    Painted is new;
    Stacked is tidy.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. danaethinks January 15, 2016 / 5:23 pm

    I’m so glad I started blogging, otherwise I would have never found this one! Finishing up a Sci-fi novel with ex-military starship Captain, and she swears like a (d.) all of the above. I’ve been cheery picking strong language, deciding what has survived in the future and what is from her own era. Keep up the great research!


  6. Chips Mackinolty January 16, 2016 / 3:42 am

    This and the Ben Zimmer pieces are great. Almost certainly unrelated, there is a phrase in Australian slang: “Fuck my dog!”, or more colourfully, “Fuck my brown dog!” It is an epithet describing extreme frustration, often at oneself. Why the dog in question is brown escapes me.


  7. cnh January 17, 2016 / 1:45 am

    Not ‘Fox Oscar’ but ‘Foxtrot Oscar’. NATO phonetic alphabet.


  8. phil795 January 18, 2016 / 6:28 pm

    I spent ten years in the Navy with the first three in an A-6 squadron from 1985-1988. This article brings back some fun memories. A few I haven’t heard before, but I have used most. I know you can’t include all the jargon, but one that definitely should be listed is WTFO (pronounced “whiskey tango foxtrot, over”) for “what the fuck, over?” This is used in radio communications where obscenity is prohibited.


  9. olhicur22 January 19, 2016 / 9:41 pm

    Thank you! Reading your post I was immediately transported back aboard the Big E (USS Enterprise CVAN 65) off Vietnam. I guess there were some pleasant memories after all from my experience in the Tonkin Gulf Yacht Club (my carrier fleet).


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