Code Switching

by Lisa Stice

(poet, Marine Corps wife)

My husband’s difficulty in code switching between military-speak and you’re-talking-to your-spouse-speak simultaneously irritates and amuses me. I understand that some things, like how he measures time – 2200 instead of 10:00 pm – is so ingrained that I really should expect it to last the rest of his life. Plus, that’s no big deal to get used to, subtracting 12 is easy, and a lot of other countries use the same standard for referring to time of day.

When my husband says things like “roger” at the dinner table, then he sounds like a caricature from Gomer Pile or the character Mike Watt from the BBC series Spaced, and it makes me giggle. For those of you who haven’t seen Spaced, here’s a clip to give you an idea of what my husband sounds like when he comes home from work:


We meet Mike about three minutes in.

It cracks me up when I send a text or email saying, “On your way home, can you pick up_______,” and he replies, “wilco.” Still, those aren’t too crazy. I know what they mean, so I get that message that he understands and will comply. I’m sure there’s civilians who use the same terms or refer to dinner as chow or do some damage assessment after a storm, but few civilians would say, “I’m going to the head” or “Let’s deconflict this situation.” Is deconflict even a word? It’s not in my dictionary, and those stupid acronyms that my husband likes to throw around certainly aren’t either.

The acronyms are the worst. How am I supposed to know the foreign language of military acronyms? If we’re talking in person, I can stop my husband and say, “Talk like a normal person. BLT? What the heck is that? All I know it as is a bacon, lettuce and tomato sandwich.” Or in back and forth emailing about buying a big ticket item, he writes, “You’re the CINCHOUSE.” I can write back, “I’m what?” and get the answer, “You know, Commander in Charge of the House.”

And because these things are just a part of his normal vocabulary, it doesn’t cross his mind that he should probably share the ones that pertain to me, like PCS. Not too long after we were together, I stopped by our bank (it serves military) to give them the paperwork they needed for my change of name. The employee asked, “Are you going to be PCSing soon?” That was the first time I’d heard that one, and I was too embarrassed to ask the meaning because she gave the impression that I should know the meaning of that letter combination. I just said, “I don’t know.” She gave me a folder just in case I would be PCSing soon, and then as I thumbed through the papers and packing labels in the privacy of my car, I put two and two together that PCS had something to do with moving.

My favorite, though, is when he emailed me a cryptic message that just said, “FYSA” followed with an attachment. Of course, he sent it in a brief moment at his office computer before he left for some daily training or meeting or something, so I got no response to my “What?” I was like, “OK, I’ll just do an Internet search.” My search came up with lots of things related to youth soccer: Fairbanks Youth Soccer Association, Florida Youth Soccer Association, Fluvanna Youth Soccer Association. The search came up with other things, too, that didn’t seem to fit the context: Funny You Should Ask and First Year Spring Admission.

So then, I refined my search to “What does the military acronym FYSA mean?” For Your Situational Awareness. To your wife? How about a nice, casual, personal “So you can plan ahead…” or something more along those lines.

Some years have passed since that email, and For Your Situational Awareness now is the first result for a “What does FYSA mean?” search. Maybe it’s because were living in a texting/Twitter world where people clamor for acronyms to pack in as much info into as few characters as possible – and the military has a lot to offer – or maybe it’s because military related answers are the most popular from cryptic emails and texts regularly sending thousands of mil-spouses to the search engines.


stice_profile Lisa Stice is a Marine Corps wife. It’s difficult to say where “home” is, but she currently lives in North Carolina with her husband, daughter and dog. She is the author of a poetry collection, Uniform(Aldrich Press, 2016). You can find out more about her and her publications at lisastice.wordpress.com and facebook.com/LisaSticePoet.