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#1
Old 07-30-2002, 02:27 PM
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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?
Thanks
#2
Old 07-30-2002, 02:29 PM
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It's 'klick'. Slang for 'kilometre'.
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#3
Old 07-30-2002, 02:30 PM
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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.
#4
Old 07-30-2002, 02:35 PM
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Or indeed 1,000 meters...

Apparently this slang is used quite regularly in Australia, though this is only anectotal.
#5
Old 07-30-2002, 03:07 PM
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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!
#6
Old 07-30-2002, 03:18 PM
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"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.

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Just a theory tho . . .
#7
Old 07-30-2002, 05:25 PM
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“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.
#8
Old 07-30-2002, 08:07 PM
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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.
#9
Old 07-30-2002, 08:39 PM
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"Mike" may mean either mile or minute, depending on the context. Examples:
  • 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."
#10
Old 07-30-2002, 09:13 PM
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"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".
#11
Old 07-30-2002, 11:40 PM
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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?
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#12
Old 07-31-2002, 03:14 AM
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Quote:
Apparently this slang is used quite regularly in Australia, though this is only anectotal.
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".
#13
Old 07-31-2002, 03:47 AM
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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.
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#14
Old 07-31-2002, 06:46 AM
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Bill Bryon says the word originated in Vietnam:

Quote:
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 ...
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.
#15
Old 07-31-2002, 08:09 AM
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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."
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#16
Old 07-31-2002, 08:20 AM
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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.
#17
Old 07-31-2002, 08:25 AM
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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?
#18
Old 07-31-2002, 08:30 AM
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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 waYYY YYY off on this one.
#19
Old 07-31-2002, 11:54 AM
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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.
#20
Old 07-31-2002, 02:09 PM
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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.
#21
Old 07-31-2002, 02:14 PM
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Quote:
Originally posted by Cerowyn
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.
This is how it is used by people around me here in central Canada. For example, "I was only driving 50 klicks over the speed limit when the copper flashed his lights, it took him 4 kays to catch up with me and boy was he mad."
#22
Old 07-31-2002, 07:47 PM
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"Klick" is easier to say, it's only a one-syllable word, compared to "killo-meter" or "kil-LOM-met-ter." You'll hear "K" used as well (remember the 10-Kay zone around the Iron Curtain?), but a single consonant sound can be confused with so many OTHER single consonant sounds. That's why the military has "Alfa, Bravo, Charlie, Delta" for the letters of the alphabet.

It's been my observation that countries that actually USE the metric system call 'em "killo-meters," while we stupid yay-who Yankees call 'em "kil-LOM-met-ters."

Besides, you NEVER ask why the military does something. Sheesh, people!


~VOW
#23
Old 08-01-2002, 01:47 AM
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Quote:
Originally posted by VOW
Besides, you NEVER ask why the military does something. Sheesh, people!
Thank you! Thank you! Thank you! Thank you! Thank you! Thank you! Thank you! Thank you! Thank you! Thank you! Thank you! Thank you! Thank you! Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!

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About damn time someone realized this.
#24
Old 04-19-2016, 01:13 PM
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You've walked right around it!

You know - if you all would have "listened" to yourselves.
Phonetic alphabet use says "kilo" - you wouldn't WANT to also say kilo or kilometer. It would be too confusing over radio traffic. The one meter thing is true! Ranging on maps and on compasses are in kilometers. Early on, it was discovered that the metric system made more sense in certain measurements. A "click" on a site took the round a specific amount over or up. 1mm over at 1 meter does translate to 1 meter over at one kilometer! It's a much more linear system than miles or feet!
#25
Old 04-19-2016, 02:14 PM
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Originally Posted by Paull Karll View Post
You know - if you all would have "listened" to yourselves.
Phonetic alphabet use says "kilo" - you wouldn't WANT to also say kilo or kilometer. It would be too confusing over radio traffic. The one meter thing is true! Ranging on maps and on compasses are in kilometers. Early on, it was discovered that the metric system made more sense in certain measurements. A "click" on a site took the round a specific amount over or up. 1mm over at 1 meter does translate to 1 meter over at one kilometer! It's a much more linear system than miles or feet!
Except that as was establish here already using click for kilometer started at least in the early 50s and possibly much later. The military was still using "king" for the letter k officially until the late 50s and unofficially until much later.

Last edited by Loach; 04-19-2016 at 02:14 PM.
#26
Old 04-19-2016, 02:26 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by pulykamell View Post
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.
I learned long ago never to trust Bryson. He's entertaining, but I wouldn't use him as a primary reference.
#27
Old 04-19-2016, 03:35 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Hemlock View Post
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?
Quote:
Originally Posted by Motog View Post
Not very often. I've only heard it on rare occasions. The more usual abbreviation is "kays".
I remember a song using the term 'keys', but it refered to kilograms, not kilometers:
Flying in a big airliner
Coming into Los Angelees
Bringing in a couple of keys
Don't touch my bag if you please, Mr. Customs man.


Quote:
Originally Posted by pulykamell View Post
t appears to me that, despite Bryson's orthography, "klick" or "klik" is the more recognized spelling of the word.
Alternate spellings that are pronounced the same often indicate that the word emerged in spoken communications rather than written. Something like military talk, where the word should be short, and distinctly different from other words, even over noisy transmissions.
#28
Old 04-19-2016, 04:25 PM
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Originally Posted by Chronos View Post
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.
Joe Haldeman, a U.S. Army combat engineer during the Vietnam War, also often used "klicks" to refer to kilometers in his distant-future military sf novel The Forever War, published in 1974.
#29
Old 04-20-2016, 10:43 AM
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"bought the farm" is a lot older than Viet Nam or WWI - it refers to fraternal insurance where a death paid off the mortgage.
#30
Old 04-20-2016, 10:49 AM
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Originally Posted by svd678 View Post
"bought the farm" is a lot older than Viet Nam or WWI - it refers to fraternal insurance where a death paid off the mortgage.
Do you have a definitive cite for that? As far as I know, the origins of this phrase are speculative. See here. Or here, unless more evidence has recently surfaced.
#31
Old 04-20-2016, 10:50 AM
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Originally Posted by August West View Post
I learned long ago never to trust Bryson. He's entertaining, but I wouldn't use him as a primary reference.
Give me a break, that was 14 years ago! I've long since come to the same conclusion as you.

Last edited by pulykamell; 04-20-2016 at 10:51 AM.
#32
Old 04-20-2016, 10:56 AM
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Quote:
Joe Haldeman, a U.S. Army combat engineer during the Vietnam War, also often used "klicks" to refer to kilometers in his distant-future military sf novel The Forever War, published in 1974.
Yes, but we're looking for the first citation.

And one of that book's many flaws is that it isn't distant-future. It starts in the 1980s, which means that Haldeman was positing full manned exploration of the Solar System, a practical FTL drive, radical changes in military culture, and all the rest within a mere decade.
#33
Old 04-20-2016, 11:14 AM
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Originally Posted by Chronos View Post
...And one of that book's many flaws is that it isn't distant-future. It starts in the 1980s, which means that Haldeman was positing full manned exploration of the Solar System, a practical FTL drive, radical changes in military culture, and all the rest within a mere decade.
By the end, due to time dilation, it's set several hundred years from now.
#34
Old 04-20-2016, 11:47 AM
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Originally Posted by pulykamell View Post
Give me a break, that was 14 years ago! I've long since come to the same conclusion as you.
Ha, completely missed the dates on this one! I would have trusted Bryson 14 years ago, too!
#35
Old 04-20-2016, 11:50 AM
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Originally Posted by svd678 View Post
"bought the farm" is a lot older than Viet Nam or WWI - it refers to fraternal insurance where a death paid off the mortgage.
No, it comes from the Bible. Acts ch1 V 17-19

Judas was one of us and had worked with us, but he brought the mob to arrest Jesus. 18 Then Judas bought some land with the money he was given for doing that evil thing. He fell headfirst into the field. His body burst open, and all his insides came out. 19 When the people of Jerusalem found out about this, they called the place Akeldama, which in the local language means “Field of Blood.”


NB I'm joking. This probably isn't the origin. Someone has to invent these folk etymologies.
#36
Old 04-20-2016, 12:47 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Chronos View Post
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.
I did not remember any such reference in Troopers, and I just confirmed it with a text search on an etext. He does NOT use the term.
#37
Old 04-21-2016, 10:14 AM
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Originally Posted by Sofa King View Post
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.
From back in my doper (not THAT doper) days, I knew it a shorthand for microgram, one millionth of a gram.
#38
Old 04-21-2016, 11:56 AM
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Originally Posted by OffByOne View Post
From back in my doper (not THAT doper) days, I knew it a shorthand for microgram, one millionth of a gram.
In the US military "mike" is short for minutes. I've never heard anything else.

Here is a cite that goes back to 1960.
#39
Old 04-22-2016, 09:34 PM
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"Mike" is just short for the letter "M", and so can stand for anything the letter can stand for.
#40
Old 04-22-2016, 10:06 PM
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Originally Posted by BrotherCadfael View Post
I did not remember any such reference in Troopers, and I just confirmed it with a text search on an etext. He does NOT use the term.
I just reread 'Starship Troopers", and I was certain it was in there.

So I also did a text search, and yes, you are right. No "klicks" or "clicks" for units of distance.

But the verb "click" sure gets used a lot, so I can see the source of confusion. He has his own slang term "click" for activating a communication channel. (And that's without all the clicking heels and stuff- I thought that they were cloggers after I did my search.)
#41
Old 04-23-2016, 12:24 AM
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To me, a "klick" is one kilometer and a "click" is the next detent either way on a rifle sight to move the point of impact 1 inch at 100 yards. In my experience, "clicks" were only used at a rifle range. Once we got our combat zero (200 yds for me), Tennessee windage took care of the rest.

Why do we say 1,000 kilometers? What's wrong with 1 Megameter?
#42
Old 04-23-2016, 08:44 AM
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In any context where distances of a significant number of megameters are common, the term is in fact used. Such contexts just aren't very common, on the surface of our planet (which is only 20 megameters between antipodal points).
#43
Old 04-23-2016, 11:14 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Chronos View Post
"Mike" is just short for the letter "M", and so can stand for anything the letter can stand for.
When speaking over the radio mike is short for minutes. "Hold 10 mikes" is understood to mean standby for 10 minutes. You don't have to establish that mikes means minutes and not McNuggets.

Last edited by Loach; 04-23-2016 at 11:14 AM.
#44
Old 04-24-2016, 06:01 PM
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Originally Posted by BrotherCadfael View Post
I did not remember any such reference in Troopers, and I just confirmed it with a text search on an etext. He does NOT use the term.
That said, I do recall Heinlein making a sideways reference to "bought the farm", something about people dying having made land purchases or agricultural deals. I read it about 15 years ago, so I'm fuzzy nowadays.
#45
Old 04-24-2016, 09:13 PM
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Originally Posted by svd678 View Post
"bought the farm" is a lot older than Viet Nam or WWI - it refers to fraternal insurance where a death paid off the mortgage.
I always assumed it was a whole lot older -- that it referred to the Roman Empire paying accumulated salary & bonuses to a centurion upon retirement, often including a plot of agricultural land in the rural area of the Empire. Or paying this to the widow of a long-term soldier killed in battle.
#46
Old 04-25-2016, 05:01 PM
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Originally Posted by Raguleader View Post
That said, I do recall Heinlein making a sideways reference to "bought the farm", something about people dying having made land purchases or agricultural deals. I read it about 15 years ago, so I'm fuzzy nowadays.

Yeah, he did that a lot. The part that was new for me was when someone said "bought the farm, or a piece of one" to refer to someone dead or severely injured (enough to be done with battle).
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