The Royal Air Force (RAF) developed a distinctive slang which has been documented in works such as Piece of Cake and the Dictionary of RAF slang.[1]

The following is a comprehensive selection of slang terms and common abbreviations used by British Armed Forces from before World War II until the present day; less common abbreviations are not included.

Often common colloquial terms are used as well by airmen, in addition, some terms have come into common parlance such as "I pranged the car last night".

Other slang was used by British and Empire air forces. There were a number of codes used within the RAF, not now under the official secrets act, some of which are included.

It is followed by a list of nicknames of aircraft used by, or familiar to, the RAF.

AEdit

BEdit

  • Bale out (or Bail out) – to jump out of a stricken aircraft and parachute down to earth.[3][5]
  • Banana Boat – an aircraft carrier.[6]
  • Bandit – an enemy aircraft.[7]
  • Best Blue – the Number 1 uniform worn by RAF personnel, usually for parades, but also when an airman is 'under restrictions' (see: Jankers).[8]
  • Bimble – a wander around; "We'll just bimble down to the mess".[9]
  • Bimble Box – packed lunch.[10]
  • Blower – the telephone.[8]
  • Bogey – an unidentified aircraft, suspected of being hostile.[11]
  • Bone Dome – a flying helmet.[10]
  • Bought it – to be killed, or shot down by enemy fire.[3]
  • Brolly – a parachute, particularly when used to 'Bale out'.[12]
  • Bumf – paperwork or boring reading. Originally used to describe leaflets dropped as a means of psychological operations over enemy territory; the term derives from 'bum-fodder'.[3]
  • Burton, gone for a – a widely used term, but in RAF slang meaning someone who has gone missing, or more likely, had been killed on operations.[13]
  • Bus driver – a slang term used by fighter pilots to describe bomber pilots.[14]

CEdit

  • (The) Chair force – desk-bound, ground personnel, see also: 'shiny'.[15]
  • Char – a drink of tea.[3]
  • Chauffeurs Electronic – pilots of Shackletons, Nimrods etc.[16]
  • Clot – archaic, mildly derogative term used to describe someone prone to idiotic tendencies.[17]

DEdit

  • Dhobi – laundry.[2]
  • Dhobi dust – washing powder.[18]
  • (the) Ditch – the English Channel.[19]
  • (to) Ditch (or Ditching) – to either bale out into, or land an aircraft, in the sea (also known as In the drink).[3][5]

EEdit

  • Erk – old RAF nickname originating in the First World War; it started out as 'airk' (short for aircraftman), and came to mean any low or basic rank person or beginner.[20]

FEdit

  • Fang farrier – a dentist.[4]
  • (Mr) Fireworks – an armaments officer.[14]
  • Flap – to panic, or a disturbance on station, ie, "What's the flap?"[21]
  • Fruit salad - a large array of medal ribbons on someones uniform.[15]

GEdit

  • Gash – used by all three services to describe something that is rubbish, but additionally, in the RAF, is used as a meaning of anything free; eg, "any chance of a gash job to check the brakes on my car".[22]
  • Gen – information of any kind, eg, "What's the gen?"[21][17] This could either be reliable information, (Pukka Gen) or unreliable, (Duff Gen).[23]
  • Glamour boys – derogatory term for fighter pilots.[21]
  • God botherer – a chaplain in the RAF, or padre.[4]
  • Gravel crusher – an NCO who was employed to drill the airmen.[24]
  • Gremlin – an unknown mischievous sprite that was blamed for anything that went wrong with an aircraft, eg, "The gremlins have been at it again!"[25]
  • Grow-bag – the flight suit that pilots wear, said to be so named because of the untidy appearance of both items; grow-bag by extension also can used as a description of aircrew; "The grow-bags are heading out for lunch".[18]
  • Gunners – a term for the RAF Regiment ground defence and fighting troops.[26]

HEdit

  • Heat wagon – a fire engine.[27]

IEdit

  • In a spot – in some difficulty, as in "..in a spot of bother.."[28]

JEdit

KEdit

LEdit

  • Liney – an aircraft mechanic, or someone who works on the aircraft flight line.[4]

MEdit

  • Mae West – a lifebelt worn around the upper body which was inflated if aircrew went into the sea; its name derives from the bust of the actress of the same name.[32]
  • Meat wagon – an ambulance, may also be used for those who 'bought it'.[27]
  • Milk run (or Milk round) – a sortie against an easy target, especially one which could be used to break in inexperienced bomber crews.[33]

NEdit

  • Nickel – a sortie over enemy territory to drop leaflets (bumf).[34]
  • Noddy Suit – an NBC suit.[35]

OEdit

  • Oppo – a friend colleague or co-worker, from my opposite number.[36]

PEdit

  • Pebble Monkey – a term used to describe very junior RAF Regiment officers (see Rock Ape).[37]
  • Plumber – a member of the armament trade, originated from when ammunition contained lead (Pb being the chemical formula for lead); though later came to be a reference to almost any ground trade associated with aircraft.[30]
  • Prang – to achieve a direct hit, or to crash one's own aircraft; a term originating in the Second World War, it also gave rise to the term Wizard Prang, meaning wonderful or an extremely accurate hit on a target.[38]
  • Prune – someone who is foolish or not to be looked up to or respected; stems from a Second World War cartoon character, Pilot Officer Prune, who does everything wrong and risks his safety and that of others. A modern day equivalent in the RAF safety journal (Air Clues), is Wing Commander Spry.[37]

QEdit

REdit

  • Rigger – an airframe mechanic or technician.[39]
  • Rock ape – slang but inwardly affectionate term for a member of the RAF Regiment.[26][40]
  • Ropey – an adjective used to describe something bad; "That was a ropey landing".[2]

SEdit

  • Scramble – a term that came into use during the Second World War, particularly during the Battle of Britain; scramble was used to alert ground and aircrews of an incoming attack in their area of operation, and rapidly launch aircraft.[41]
  • Scrambled egg – the gold braid on high-ranking officers' parade uniforms, and the gold adornment on the visor of their SD had.[15]
  • Scuffer – a nickname for members of the Royal Air Force Police.[4]
  • Snowdrop – a nickname for personnel of the RAF Police (RAFP).[21] The name derives from the white hats that the RAFP wear.[42]
  • Sparks – a wireless operator,[43] or an electician.
  • Sweeny – a haircut to service standards (named after Sweeny Todd).[44]

TEdit

UEdit

  • US (often U/S) - unserviceable.[45]

VEdit

WEdit

YEdit

  • Yellow peril – now archaic, but previously used to describe the colour of elementary training aircraft; there is still a nod to this with the yellow and black colour scheme used on the training helicopters at the Defence Helicopter Flying School.[47]

ZEdit

Aircraft nicknamesEdit

In popular cultureEdit

Monty Python's Flying Circus featured a sketch named "RAF Banter".[57]

ReferencesEdit

  1. ^ Coleman, Julie (28 October 2010). A History of Cant and Slang Dictionaries: Volume IV: 1937-1984. Oxford, England: Oxford University Press. p. 54. ISBN 978-0-19-956725-6 – via Google Books.
  2. ^ a b c Congdon 1985, p. 147.
  3. ^ a b c d e f Halpenny 1982, p. 15.
  4. ^ a b c d e f Dent 2017, p. 202.
  5. ^ a b "Life And Death In Bomber Command". www.IWM.org.uk. London, England: Imperial War Museum. Retrieved 26 August 2020.
  6. ^ Partridge 2016, p. 14.
  7. ^ Bowyer 1984, p. 115.
  8. ^ a b Ford 1992, p. 216.
  9. ^ Dent 2017, p. 201.
  10. ^ a b c Jackson, Paul A. (1995). Royal Air Force (2 ed.). Shepperton: Ian Allan. p. 94. ISBN 0711023387.
  11. ^ Partridge 2016, p. 17.
  12. ^ Fussell 1989, p. 256.
  13. ^ Pickering, Isaacs & Martin 1991, p. 76.
  14. ^ a b Congdon 1985, p. 146.
  15. ^ a b c Ellin 2015, p. 47.
  16. ^ Lake, Deborah (2010). Growling over the oceans : the Avro Shackleton, the men and the missions 1951-1991. London: Souvenir Press. p. xxii. ISBN 9780285638761.
  17. ^ a b c "The Gen, No 12". www.IWM.org.uk. London, England: RAF Film Production Unit. May 2009 [January 1945]. Retrieved 29 December 2021 – via Imperial War Museum.
  18. ^ a b Dent 2017, p. 203.
  19. ^ Partridge 2016, p. 23.
  20. ^ Pickering, Isaacs & Martin 1991, p. 180.
  21. ^ a b c d e Halpenny 1982, p. 16.
  22. ^ Congdon 1985, p. 153.
  23. ^ Fussell 1989, p. 255.
  24. ^ Ellin 2015, p. 53.
  25. ^ Pickering, Isaacs & Martin 1991, p. 247.
  26. ^ a b Mallinson, Allan (27 March 2010). "RAF's unsung heroes win their spurs in Afghanistan". www.TheTimes.co.uk. The Times. Retrieved 26 August 2020.
  27. ^ a b Ellin 2015, p. 46.
  28. ^ Partridge 2016, p. 33.
  29. ^ Partridge 2016, p. 38.
  30. ^ a b Bowyer 1984, p. 116.
  31. ^ Pickering, Isaacs & Martin 1991, p. 325.
  32. ^ Pickering, Isaacs & Martin 1991, p. 376.
  33. ^ Pickering, Isaacs & Martin 1991, p. 400.
  34. ^ Halpenny 1982, p. 14.
  35. ^ Jackson, Paul A. (1995). Royal Air Force (2 ed.). Shepperton: Ian Allan. p. 95. ISBN 0711023387.
  36. ^ Partridge 2016, p. 42.
  37. ^ a b Congdon 1985, p. 158.
  38. ^ Pickering, Isaacs & Martin 1991, p. 485.
  39. ^ Partridge 2016, p. 48.
  40. ^ "RAF aim to 'dominate the ground'". News.BBC.co.uk. BBC News. 2 October 2007. Retrieved 26 August 2020.
  41. ^ Pickering, Isaacs & Martin 1991, p. 585.
  42. ^ "Royal Air Force Police". www.IWM.org.uk. London, England: Imperial War Museum. Retrieved 26 August 2020.
  43. ^ a b Monahan 2018, p. 283.
  44. ^ Bowyer 1984, p. 117.
  45. ^ a b Partridge 2016, p. 60.
  46. ^ OPINION: Common abbreviation for the Air Force Wing Commander, 26 August 2020
  47. ^ "Training Aircraft Colour Schemes". www.RAFMuseum.org.uk. London, England: Royal Air Force Museum. Retrieved 29 December 2021.
  48. ^ "Hercules". www.NationalColdWarExhibition.org. National Cold War Exhibition. Retrieved 26 August 2020.
  49. ^ Hunt 2008, p. 32.
  50. ^ Vickers VC10 jetliners fly last mission from RAF Brize Norton 20 September 2013
  51. ^ Lake, Deborah (2010). Growling over the oceans : the Avro Shackleton, the men and the missions 1951-1991. London: Souvenir Press. pp. 16–17. ISBN 9780285638761.
  52. ^ OPINION: a nickname for any of the Handley-Paige Halifax bombers, 26 August 2020
  53. ^ Hunt 2008, p. 44.
  54. ^ "Supermarine Spitfire". www.WarbirdAlley.com. Warbird Alley.
  55. ^ "TriStar retires after 30 years' service". www.GOV.uk. HM Government. 25 March 2014. Retrieved 26 August 2020.
  56. ^ "Bidding a fond farewell to RAF's mighty Tonka". Flight International. 8 March 2019.
  57. ^ "BBC One - Monty Python's Flying Circus, Series 4, Episode 3". bbc.co.uk. BBC. n.d. Retrieved 22 April 2022.

SourcesEdit

External linksEdit