Clicks? Military unit of distance?

In a lot of war movies I have seen, the actors refer to clicks. It seems they are referring to a unit of distance. But the only thing I could find on the net about ‘clicks’ was about aiming one’s rifle.
So… How far is a click? And why is it used?

It’s ‘klick’. Slang for ‘kilometre’. :slight_smile:

A “klick” (the way I’ve seen it spelled, not necessarily a correction) is jargon for a kilometer (i.e., 0.624 mi.).

And I felt about as sheepish as you probably feel right now when I first had it explained to me, too. :slight_smile:

Or indeed 1,000 meters…

Apparently this slang is used quite regularly in Australia, though this is only anectotal.

OK, fine, so “klick” is an abbreviation for “kilometer” (or “kilometre”). Why? Why not “klom” or “kil” (well, that would be confusing) or “kiter”? The letters in “klick” aren’t in “kilometer”, and the sounds aren’t, either!

“Klick” is slang for “kilometer”.

I theorize it came from the typical US military lensatic compass, which has both degrees and ‘mils’: At one “klick” distance, one mil sweeps a one meter difference.

Just a theory tho . . .

“KLICK” is a common word in the military vocabulary. As noted above, in putting a ‘battle sight’ on the adjustable rear sight of a rifle you count the klicks from a set position (usually all the way down and centered) so that you can put the same sight adjustment on that rifle in the future. The adjustable bezel of the lensatic compass has a series of stops that make a distinctive clicking sound and vibration when the bezel is moved. This has something to do with aiming cannons that I never understood. Kilometer can be a cumbersome work and “kaies” or “Ks” just doesn’t trip off the tongue like “klick.” When the army went metric some time between Korea and Vietnam it just happened.

As an exercise to the reader, I offer the following study question.

If a “click” is a kilometer in American military parlance, then what is a “mike”?

(chuckle) I think the best answer might be, “the guy who makes the coffee.” Lots of other answers work just as well.

“Mike” may mean either mile or minute, depending on the context. Examples:[ul][]Will arrive at your location in one zero mikes" means "I’ll be there in 10 minutes.[]“The target is one mike away from your position” means “The target’s a mile away from you.”[/ul]

“Mike” is the phonetic letter “M”. Instead of saying “we’re taking twenty millimeter fire”, a pilot might say “We’re taking 20 mike-mike” for “20mm”.

Some British friends of mine who live in Europe always call kilometers “clicks”. Whatever its origin, I suspect it will end up being the English for “kilometer” one day, especially if we go over to metric road signs/car speeds. Who on earth wants to use a four-syllable word to replace “mile”? Can you imagine the word “kilometer” appearing in the lyrics of a rock song or in a poem?

Not very often. I’ve only heard it on rare occasions. The more usual abbreviation is “kays”.

There may however be regional variations. For example, if you were to ask a South Australian how far it is from Adelaide to Melbourne, they might say “well over a thousand kays”. However, if you were to ask a Melburnian the same question, they’d probably say “not far enough”.

This is only anecdotal, but FWIW:

When I first heard the term “clicks,” it was only applied to speed. That is, “100 clicks” was “100 km/h.” I was told a (perhaps apocryphal) story that it was derived from the clicking of a speedometer. More recently, I’ve heard the term used for distance, in place of kilometres, as well.

Bill Bryon says the word originated in Vietnam:

from Made in America

The OED offers no help on the matter. It appears to me that, despite Bryson’s orthography, “klick” or “klik” is the more recognized spelling of the word.

As to the origin of the term? Other sites seem to collaborate with Bryson’s statement that the Vietnam War mothered this bit of military slang. As to why? I’d guess “klick” is simply a variation on “kilometer.” I don’t think it has to do with clicking of any kind, though I may be wrong. It sure has a better ring than something like “kloms” or “kays” or anything else you can come up with using only the letters in the word.

We hear and use klicks here in Michigan quite a bit, and it eliminates that damn variability in how we pronounce kilometer (kee-lah-mi-ter or kilo-meter). Might have something to do with our proximity to the Canadian border, though.

Oh, and by “quite a bit” I mean when we’re talking about the metric system, which in itself is not “quite a bit.” :slight_smile:

I guess I can’t quote a quote

Pulykammell quotes:

"Several of these words were resurrected for the war in Vietnam a decade later, though that conflict also spawned many terms of its own, among them free-fire zone, clicks for kilometres, grunt for a soldier…,search-and-destroy mission, to buy the farm, to frag … "

to “buy the farm” started in WW1 not Vietnam. I’m not so sure about some of the other either.

I can believe it. I have a feeling klicks is older than Vietnam, though I don’t know why I believe this to be the case. Bryson also says the phrase “mother of all” originated during the Gulf War. I seem to recall it being used earlier, but memory is a hazy thing indeed, so he may be right. And, since this is GQ, got a cite or further explanation on “buy the farm” being a WW1 expression?

Well, this site traces it to the 50s (proving Bryson wrong). This site claims WWII. Random House Dictionary’s got it in record only back to 1955. There do appear to be variations on it which date back earlier. Well, Bryon was wayyyyyy off on this one.

bummer, I just posted a bunch of sites that said WWI but it got eaten. Too lazy to cite again. In any case it appears the experts disagree on this one.

It’s certainly earlier than Vietnam. Heinlein used the term “klick” in many of his books, including Starship Troopers, published in 1959. I think it was used in earlier books as well, but I can’t remember any specifically that used it.