Guns and bullets in military nomenclature

I didn’t serve in the military, but I am pretty sure that they get pretty bent out of shape if you refer to a rifle as a gun. Do they have a similar reaction if you call a cartridge a bullet?


I’ve never called a bullet a cartridge. We just called them rounds.

I always called my weapon a weapon. If I wanted to be specific, I just used ‘9mil’ for my handgun and ‘m-4’ for my carbine.

But I was in the Air Force so Army might be different.

What sort of Air Force personnel carry carbines? :confused:

The military likes precise language. Bullets are the things that are propelled out of firearms, and are one component of a cartridge. If you ask the supply sergeant for bullets, you will get bullets, not cartridges. In reality, you have to be much more specific. Cartridges come in many calibers and variations. There is one cartridge designed for older versions of the M16 and another designed for newer versions of the M16. Then there are many special purpose cartridges like blanks, tracers, etc.

Different weapons have specific names. The noncoms jump all over recruits in training over stuff like calling a rifle a gun because they want to encourage precision in communications. When I served, an M-16A1 could be referred to as a rifle, and M-16, or a weapon without provoking the wrath of the drills. The word gun was used to indicate certain artillery pieces or the main armament on a tank.
To an outsider, this may sound kind of petty; but the military functions, in part, by fostering a sense of of being part of a unique community. Shared jargon, different from that of outsiders, plays a role.

I’d like some Navy person to explain their definition of rifle and caliber, such as the 16"/50 caliber rifles that were installed on battleships.

A 16’"/50 caliber rifle describes a weapon that has grooves (rifling) inside the barrel to impart a spin on the shells leaving the tube. This makes them more accurate. Without the rifling, such a weapon would be a cannon of some sort. The barrel would be 16" across, without counting the grooves and would have a length equal to the diameter (16") times 50, so about 800 inches. It would be a big gun.

Caliber has an entirely different meaning in small arms.

I know they make custom ammo for matches and for snipers, but I would be surprised to learn that S-4s routinely stocked bullets. Are you sure?


I made the mistake of referring to my husband the marine as a soldier once. *That *wasn’t pretty.

I wouldn’t expect them to have them in stock, except for a rifle team that loaded their own ammunition. I was just trying to make the point, although poorly, that the sloppy language used in the civilian world is unacceptable in the military. You have to be very careful when you fill out a supply requisition form in the military, you might get what you asked for, not what you needed.

I’m sure you meant to type Marine, not marine. You may want to get your shift key repaired.


You spelled Lunatic wrong. Spellcheck is your friend.

Security Forces
Combat Controllers
Aircrews (if they end up having to bail out)

What, you think we’re civilians or something? Sheesh.

Actually, the correct term is “the American Navy’s Army.”

“The Navy’s color guard” according to Harry Truman, but then again he was a soldier.

I’m sure there’s more than a handful out there that keep a sack of bullets on hand for [del]hazing[/del] educational purposes.

Airman Doors is correct in who would use a carbine. I flew in a rescue helo and the M-4 makes a great egress weapon.

Thanks for your responses. But do you know of anyone in the military who was ever corrected for calling cartridges bullets?


Well, no, but you’ve got missiles and bombs and stuff. I didn’t know aircrews carried rifles, either- I thought they just got sidearms.

We do, but someone realized that since we’re qualified on rifles also that they would be an excellent standoff weapon if you’re ever on the ground. Handguns are close range weapons, and letting someone get closer to you while they’re shooting at you is not exactly conducive to long life if you know what I mean.