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In Polish you can give relative directions (most often in military context) by using the clock dial analogy — you're at the centre and each number between 1 and 12 is a direction. For example, "Enemy at eight." would mean that the enemy is to the left and slightly behind you. Can you do a similar thing in English? I believe I heard something like this but Google searches turn up nothing.

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Just to add that this is a valid question: in German this is not used at all. The first time I heard about it was in English-language movies. –  user36437 Jan 25 '13 at 14:26

3 Answers 3

up vote 10 down vote accepted

Yes, you certainly can.

Enemy at 3 o'clock!

Usually your front is at 12 o'clock and your back is at 6 o'clock.

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+1 for including the "o'clock", which must be included (or else you are unlikely to be understood :) –  psmears Mar 22 '11 at 12:24
Famously in the film Twelve O'Clock High –  user1579 Mar 22 '11 at 13:41
@psmears: that's becoming less true over time. Enough action movies and novels telling people to "Watch your six" have made that particular case moderately well known. –  user1579 Mar 22 '11 at 13:44
@Rhodri: I guess context is key... an action movie fanatic might understand, but if someone said that to me I'd be mighty confused (watch my six what? :) –  psmears Mar 22 '11 at 14:09
In the movie 'Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade', Indy is flying a bi-plane with his father in the back seat. When they come under attack from Messerschmitts, Indy tells his father something like "Enemy at 10 O'Clock!" His father looks at his watch and wonders "What happens at 10 O'Clock?".. ..Using the face of a clock can be used on the ground, with 12 O'Clock being straight ahead and 3 O'Clock directly to your right. When airborne, there is an additional elevation element--2 O'Clock can be on the same elevation, slightly ahead of right, or directly to the right, slightly above the wing. –  oosterwal Mar 22 '11 at 18:04

Yes this is very common and I think a standard used by the military all over the world.

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No, it's not used all over the world (language-wise). Of the languages I speak, Armenian, Russian, and German are counterexamples. –  Armen Ծիրունյան Nov 10 '13 at 10:53

What has language got to do with it? What you choose to express can be expressed in all the languages in the world.

Specifically this use of giving directions is used by stargazers as well. Here, the sky is assumed to be the clock and the zenith is the center. From there on, it's easy to navigate to particular stars, constellations and other objects in a manner exactly similar to what you know, in your native place (and not language).

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It clearly is related to language, as the querent says that in Polish they would what would directly translate to "enemy at eight", and in English you certainly wouldn't. It's related to other points of culture as well, but so are all conventions. –  Jon Hanna Jan 25 '13 at 14:36

protected by RegDwigнt Nov 10 '13 at 10:45

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