Have you ever heard someone say to you, “watch your six”? For those who haven’t heard the phrase before, I can understand why it might confuse you a little bit. Your six what?
But in this article, I want to explain what “Watch your six” means, where it comes from, and when you might hear it.
What does “Watch your six” mean?
“Watch your six” just means “Be careful of what’s behind you”. The phrase originally comes from the Military, but has since been adopted by civilians.
The word “six” refers to the numbers on an imaginary clock. 12 is directly in front of you, and six is directly behind.
I want you to imagine a clock—a giant clock, even bigger than yourself.
And now I want you to imagine you’re wearing this clock, not on your wrist but around your waist. You are in the centre of the clock, and the numbers are all around you.
If you ever wore a clock like this, you would find that the number 12 is directly in front of you, and the number six is right at the back. If you wanted to look at the number six, you would need to turn around.
Of course, the clock you’re imagining yourself wearing needs to be analogue. It wouldn’t make sense if it was digital.
“Watch your six” Origin
Using points on a clock to refer to positions was started in the US Military, most commonly in the Air Force.
In this kind of role, knowing the exact position of your friends and foes is vital. If you get something just the slightest bit off, you could miss your enemy, or even worse, end up killing your own teammates.
By using numbers, instead of general directions, soldiers can give more precise directions in less time. For example, saying “1 o’clock” is better than “North North East”.
“Watch your six” is useful in battle
In battle, being able to say “watch your six” will be helpful in a range of scenarios. For example, suppose an enemy is coming up from behind by telling someone to “watch their six”. In that case, they will know that there is a problem behind them, and they can take the right action to prevent themselves from getting hurt.
When a soldier is not paying as much attention as they should, “watch your six” should remind them that they need to be alert at all times.
When you’re coming up behind a friend, saying, “Watch your six, I’m coming”. Will let them know that you are arriving from behind, and they needn’t be alarmed.
Other Military phrases
Several other phrases initially came from the Military, but have since been adopted by regular people.
Bite the bullet.
When you do something that you don’t want to do but needs to be done.
Balls to the wall.
As fast as possible.
An expression of excitement. Comes from Fort Beijing in Georgia. Geronimo is the name of a famous Native American Chief.
No Man’s Land
An uninhabited area of land. Named after the place where world war 2 was set.
Is it okay to use Military Phrases?
All of this leads to the interesting question of “Should civilians be using Military Lingo?”.
Some would argue that the Military has sacrificed a lot and should have the right to use this kind of language. These people would say that the right to use phrases such as “watch your six” need to be earned.
However, I disagree. Firstly, I have never met a soldier who would have an issue with people saying, “watch your six”. The Military also created these phrases because they were simple to understand and got right to the point. Surely that’s the point of any language?
Alternatives to “Watch your six”
Of course, “Watch your six” is not the only example of a phrase that means “be careful about what might be behind you”.
Watch your back.
Keep an eye out.
Be on guard.
Stay on your toes.
Cover for me.
All of these phrases have roughly the same meanings. Be alert. And be aware that danger could come from behind. You need to be alert to be able to stop any threats.
This is an exciting thing about the English Language. We have several different ways of saying the same thing.
8 Examples of “Watch your six” in sentences
“Watch your six, Forrest used to tell him, meaning watch your six o’ clock position, meaning watch your ass”.
“And as we fly among them there, We are sure to hear their plea “Take care, my friend, watch your six, and do one more roll — just for me”.
“But again, take care and watch your six.” “I assume you and Frank are referring to the area behind me as my six o’ clock.”
“”Watch your six!” Matt’s wingman said, warning him that an enemy plane was coming up on his tail. “
“I think that we ‘re tail – end Charlie, so watch your six o’ clock. These little monkeys like to pot shoot your backside.”
“Failing to watch your six was not wise, but Mel had no complaints”.
“Yeager pops up on the screen to exhort us to “watch your six “boldly tell him to “can it “as we send our F – 4s plummeting toward earth”.
“Better watch your six o’clock.” Mother sat back down. Except for Mr Sanchez, who likely missed the gist of Mother’s speech, people tried to keep their eyes on anything except another person.”
“Watch your six” comes from the Military, but is now a common idiom that people can use in their day to day lives.
The term “six” refers to a clock. If you imagine yourself in the centre of a giant clock, the number six will be directly behind you. This is super useful when you’re engaged in battle. Still, it may also be useful when talking about more common situations, such as sports or the workplace.
Next time someone yells to you, “watch your six”, the best thing to do would be to turn around and see what’s behind you.