Has anyone ever told you to “watch your six”? You might have responded in confusion, thinking: “I don’t even own a six!” or, “I left my six at home and who told you about it?”
If you would like your confusion resolved, read on!
Watch Your Six – Meaning
The phrase “watch your six” means “watch your back”. It is taken from the positioning of a clock: if you are standing in the center of an analog clock, facing the 12, the 6 is at your back. It’s associated with the police and military but also used by civilians.
When used in combat scenarios, “watch your six” literally means “keep an eye on what’s behind you”. Outside of this context, it is also used to generally mean “pay attention to your surroundings” and “stay alert”.
When used by civilians, it more commonly implies the figurative rather than the literal meaning. So, “stay alert” as opposed to “someone could attack you on your flank at any moment”. Not always, though:
“Hey, watch your six if you’re heading out today.”
“Oh, you mean pay attention to my surroundings?”
“No, I mean regularly look behind you. Gangs of grandmas have been going around walloping people on the back of the head with handbags!”
How to Use “Watch Your Six” in a Sentence
Here are some examples of how this phrase can be used with both its literal and figurative meaning:
- Watch your six tonight; I was at the bingo hall earlier and I overheard Audrey say the grandma gang is going to be out on the prowl.
- We’ve got hostiles approaching from the rear; everybody watch your six!
- You better watch your six because I’m coming for you the second you let your guard down.
- The shout of “watch your six” rang in her ears as the plane began to plummet.
- “Watch your six!” He yelled, but it was too late. The grandma’s handbag, heavy with boiled sweets, had already found its target.
Watch Your Six – Origin
The phrase “watch your six” comes from the US military, particularly the Air Force.
Pilots would use a clock system as a speedy way to communicate their positioning on the battlefield. For example, if you wanted to tell a fellow pilot that they needed to look at something to their front-right, you could just say “2 o’clock”.
It works on the principle that you are standing in the center of the clock facing the 12. Therefore, the 6 is at your back – ergo “watch your 6”. Newbie pilots are often reminded to “watch your 6” due to the danger of attacks from the rear.
We don’t know who said it first, but it is likely that its popularity grew as military people brought the phrase into civilian spaces.
Watch Your Six – Synonyms
There are plenty of phrases that share the same sentiments as “watch your six”. “Watch your six” can be used to demand that you literally look behind you.
However, most of the phrases similar to it simply issue a warning a general warning: be wary of your surroundings, as there may be danger lurking.
- Watch your back
- Keep your eyes peeled
- Keep an eye out
- Be all eyes
Can you think of any others?
Phrases That Mean the Opposite of “Watch Your Six”
If “watch your six” means “be on the lookout for trouble”, there’s one phrase we can think of that means the opposite:
- Hakuna matata
As The Lion King helpfully informed us via song, this Swahili phrase means “no worries” or “take it easy”. Basically, don’t waste your time staying alert for danger; just relax, you worry-wart.
Naturally, you could also use the English equivalents on their own:
- No worries
- Take it easy
Correct Ways to Say “Watch Your Six”
You could spell out the word “six” or just use the numeral:
- Watch your six
- Watch your 6
Incorrect Ways to Use “Watch Your Six”
You shouldn’t use this phrase if you want someone to look out for something that’s coming from a direction other than their back.
If a grandma with a handbag is coming towards your mate from their left, you could try shouting “9 o’clock” instead. If the grandma is approaching from the right, it would be “3 o’clock” etc.
In What Situations Can You Use “Watch Your High”?
You can use the phrase “watch your six” in a combat scenario if you’re reminding someone to look out for attacks from behind. Additionally, the phrase can be used as a general warning to be cautious and stay alert in all scenarios.
Martin holds a Master’s degree in Finance and International Business. He has six years of experience in professional communication with clients, executives, and colleagues. Furthermore, he has teaching experience from Aarhus University. Martin has been featured as an expert in communication and teaching on Forbes and Shopify. Read more about Martin here.