I've been reading Heinlein's Starship Troopers in which the crews of the starships are referred to by the Mobile Infantry as "Navy files". This appears to be an affectionately derisory term. I was wondering, is this name used by real members of the army or marines to refer to navy people, and if so, what it means?

Consulting the dictionary here suggests it might mean a line of persons or things arranged one behind another, or possibly

Military . a. a person in front of or behind another in a military formation. b. one step on a promotion list.

I'm also guessing that this is an American or pseudo-American term as I'd think on the right-hand side of the pond the navy would more likely be referred to as the Andrew.

  • I'd be nice to see an example, to see how Heinlein uses the expression in a sentence or paragraph.
    – J.R.
    Commented Jun 2, 2012 at 11:30
  • @J.R., sorry, but I'm damned if I can find the book. It should be near the top of the heap, as I read it recently, but... Commented Jun 4, 2012 at 6:22

2 Answers 2


It most likely refers specifically to enlisted Navy personnel as opposed to officers, as in rank and file.

  • 2
    "Rank and file" refers to a physical distribution of personnel. Ranks are soldiers lined up abreast, and files are soldiers lined up one behind another. Put the two together and you have a rectangular matrix, which is the customary way for enlisted personnel to form up.
    – Robusto
    Commented Jul 10, 2012 at 4:50

This is why you don't stop at the first dictionary entry for a word.

file 2
a line of people or things one behind another: Plains Cree warriors riding in file down the slopes.Military a small detachment of troops: a file of English soldiers had ridden out from Perth.

As you can see, the second entry here refers to a small group, or detachment of troops. It could also be used figuratively, especially as a synecdoche.

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