45 Everyday Words that Mean Something Different to WWII Navy Veterans

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For most folks, the abdomen is the part of the body between the chest and the pelvis. For a generation of men who took to the seas during World War II, though, abdomen is also a 5.3-mile long uninhabited chunk of rock sitting somewhere in the middle of Alaska’s Aleutian Island chain, a place called Samalga Island.

During the first and second world wars, the Allied armies, navies, and air forces used a vast array of simple common words as code words for various places, operations, conferences, equipment, tactics, and people in order to protect their communications from enemy eyes and ears. Generally, they tried to use words that had no obvious connection to what they were naming, so the code couldn’t easily be deduced. According to the Office of Naval History, “There was no reason why duckpin identified General Eisenhower, nor why zootsuit referred to Auk, New Britain, nor why opium was the transfer of a Marine regiment to Samoa. Someone picked these words out of a dictionary and someone in a higher echelon applied them to a particular person, place, or action.”

This leaves a strange disconnect between the word and whatever thing it’s referring to and, I like to think, might have led to a few funny double takes among returning seamen getting used to hearing these words in a civilian context again. Here are some of our favorites from the U.S. naval code words list used during World War II, provided by the Office of Naval History and the Historian for Naval Administration. (Some of these words were recycled and meant different things at different points in the war; this list gives just the first meaning listed by the Navy).

1. Abnormal - Advance on Yeu, Burma

2. Absurd - Shinko, Formosa (what we now call Taiwan)

3. Abusive - Remote-controlled expendable pilotless aircraft used as guided missiles

4. Acidity - Gavutu Island, Solomon Islands

5. Amoeba - Goodenough Island, New Guinea

6. Aniseed - Planned amphibious raid on Lussinpiccolo (a town on the Adriatic coast, part of Italy during the war, now part of Croatia)

7. Anklet - Allied raid on the Lofoten Islands, Norway in 1941

8. Anvil - Allied operations in the Mediterranean targeting southern France in 1944

9. Archery - British raid on the Norwegian coast to destroy enemy shipping equipment and shore batteries in 1941

10. Awkward - Cape Masas, New Britain (an island now part of Papua New Guinea, used as a Japanese base during the war)

11. Banana - Doke Doke Island, part of the Solomon Islands

12. Baptism - Air reconnaissance coming from North Russia looking for the Tirpitz (one of two German Bismarck-class battleships used in the war) in 1944

13. Baseball - England-to-Russia air shuttle

14. Bashful - Moscow, U.S.S.R.

15. Biped - The British

16. Bloodsucker - Romania (This is one of a few code words that does seem to give itself away: Transylvania, home of Bram Stoker's Count Dracula, was a historical region in what is now central Romania.)

17. Breakfast - Arafura Sea, Australia

18. Broomstick - Operations to counter any enemy advances through the English Channel

19. Butterballs - "Attack at night expected"

20. Choochoo- Witnari, New Britain

21. Colleen - Fleet Admiral Ernest J. King, Commander-in-Chief, U.S. Navy and Chief of Naval Operations.

22. Compost - British Foreign Secretary Anthony Eden

23. Crossword - The surrender of German and Italian forces in the southwest Mediterranean in spring 1945

24. Demon - The United States Navy

25. Destiny - The United States Army

26. Divorce - Amphibious training for the U.S. Army and Marines on the West Coast

27. Eclipse - Plans and preparations for operations in Europe in the event of German surrender after the invasion of Normandy

28. Fireplace - Occupation and construction of an airfield on Adak Island in the Aleutian Islands

29. Glyptic - Premier Joseph Stalin (this one is maybe not so “everyday”)

30. Kudos- The U.S. bomber force stationed in East England

31. Lilac - Brazil

32. Marshmallow - "Torpedo track sighted”

33. Menace - Plan to establish Free French Forces under General De Gaulle at Dakar, Senegal in 1940

34. Monkeypuzzle - Japan

35. Mozart - The Union of Soviet Socialist Republics

36. Neptune - Landing operations of the invasion of Normandy

37. Nipple - Magulata Point, Trobriand Islands (now part of Papua New Guinea)

38. Numbskull - Kapiura River, New Britain

39. Oatmeal - Allied occupation of the Archipelago of the Azores in the North Atlantic, 1943

40. Pandemonium - Aleppo, Syria

41. Pantaloon - Naples, Italy

42. Peepshow - The Suez Canal

43. Sandwich - Proposed invasion of Southern Thailand by the British to protect it from the Japanese, 1941

44. Scram - The surrender and handing over of German warships to the Russians, 1945-1946

45. Wetblanket - Champagny Island, Australia