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I recently learned following phrases.

  • On your six

    It means directly behind you. This is a military designation of location where 12:00 is directly in front of you.

  • Watch your six

    It means to watch out for danger behind your back.

Are these well-known and frequently-used phrases ? If yes, in what kind of situations do we use these ?

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    In the original military context (and probably in extended use) it's probably usually "Watch my six [o'clock]", but I don't recall hearing it at all myself. I doubt it has much currency by comparison with "Watch your back!" usually delivered as an injunction to be alert to potential danger from all other locations apart from the one you're focussed on (or a warning not to leave traces "behind" whatever you're doing, which others might discover later and use to track you / your activities). Commented Mar 14, 2014 at 14:03
  • I have heard them when someone wanted to alert his friend to a good looking girl - but that is more on the format of "10 o'clock"
    – mplungjan
    Commented Mar 14, 2014 at 14:52
  • @mplungjan What do you mean by "more on the format of "10 o'clock"" ? That girl was in diagonally in front of them instead of behind them ?
    – chashiro
    Commented Mar 14, 2014 at 15:04
  • Yes. You are asking specifically about six - when walking together, it is awkward to look behind, so 10 and 2 o'clock are heard more often in that context
    – mplungjan
    Commented Mar 14, 2014 at 15:44
  • Yes, you hear those terms all the time in TV shows and movies. That's how most of us learned them.
    – Lambie
    Commented Jul 19, 2022 at 16:22

4 Answers 4

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A couple of my friends are in the Air Force and I hear them use those phrases a lot... in Call Of Duty. Otherwise, there's no need to use them in regular day-to-day language.

It's more common for someone to go "Look out!" if there's something behind you or they might just push you out of the way. A non-military unit is not likely to use those phrases, I don't think.

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  • People do use those expressions frequently. Where do you put your hands on a steering wheel? 10 and 2. I agree that the military had more reason to use them daily, but it's not restricted to them.
    – David M
    Commented Mar 14, 2014 at 15:35
  • Mm... isn't that usage different? I'm talking about the two specific phrases, not using the clock as a means to direct yourself in general. It is less likely that you'd hear "on your six" in normal conversation used in the way the OP defines them from a non-military unit is what I'm saying, not that we don't regularly use the clock to determine placement. DeeDee's answer solidifies my statement-- we don't use "on your six" in the same way the military would use it, as a warning of incoming danger. Is that unclear or... is the question about more than just the two phrases?
    – Ice-9
    Commented Mar 14, 2014 at 15:54
  • Many people do absolutely use it. Perhaps, they picked it up in their military days. But in general, clock directions are used to refer to positions. You've never said check it out hot chick at 2 o'clock. It's just an extension of that notion. I don't think I'd go so far as to even characterize it as a different expression.
    – David M
    Commented Mar 14, 2014 at 16:01
  • I understand where you're coming from, but I disagree. Not with everything you said, but I don't think my answer is wrong and I don't think your explanation as to why you think it's wrong is necessarily right. Sorry. I don't know why (or when) my answer was made into the verified one, but I'm sure you could bring it up with the OP. I'm hesitant to delete the answer if the OP is okay with it, but I suppose if it's such a bothersome answer I could just remove it? I'm not really seeing any reason to keep it if the general consensus is that I'm wrong.
    – Ice-9
    Commented Mar 14, 2014 at 16:17
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It depends on context. It's a very convenient and precise way to denote location relative to a person's body. I disagree with ice-9 that there's no need to use them in everyday language. I use that reference format all the time. If I'm riding in the car with my wife and there's something interesting but not necessarily conspicuous, I'll say "check out that [thing] at 2 o'clock and she'll know exactly where to look since we're both facing the same direction.

I played on a soccer team with some ex-military, and we used that all the time to communicate where we were and where we wanted the ball:

Hit me 9 o'clock! is much faster and more precise than saying "I'm open on your left".

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Heard 'watch your six' on tv NCIS, first idea was, watch like a cube: Forward, backwards, left, right, up, down…

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  • Welcome to EL&U. That's an interesting reaction, but the US military (and presumably naval) style reference is highly appropriate in NCIS as all the main characters and most of the minor ones are Navy personnel. I can imagine that members and former members of the British armed forces use "clock face" references but I've not noticed them doing it in spite of mixing with some of them quite often. By the way your post doesn't really answer the question and would be more suitable as a comment but you need a bit more reputation to make a comment. You've hit the new contributor's Catch 22!
    – BoldBen
    Commented Jul 19, 2022 at 5:41
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Another context in which I've often heard (and used) clock face directions is wildlife watching. For example 12 o'clock would be directly ahead of a safari jeep or in the direction of travel while walking a path.

It's not universal in this context, but is common and universal - I've come across it on 4 continents.

Six o'clock is probably the least likely direction in that context, as you've probably already scared off anything behind you.

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