on my six

victor steinbok aardvark66 at GMAIL.COM
Fri May 14 04:25:11 UTC 2010

Not in OED: on my six == behind me, follow me
In OED: six == six-cylinder engine (in particular, occurs in the
combination "on my six")
Not in OED: six == touchdown in American football
In OED: six == six-run score in cricket, esp. when ball is over the boundary

Just heard the expression "on my six" used in the latest episode of
the Fringe. The specific reference was, "You two--on my six." Perhaps
it's just the usual recency issue, but the phrase appears to be
occurring with increasing frequency in TV police dramas and various
other para-military and military-themed shows. Wiki glossary of Naval
slang lists

> On my six: Naval aviation expression referring to having someone or thing at my back, on my tail, directely behind me, relative to the hours of a clock; 12-dead ahead, 3-starboard or to the right, 6 aft or behind and 9-port or to the left.

I have no idea if this goes back to WWII or earlier or started
strictly in Vietnam.

So the use in other contexts--other branches of the military,
para-military, police, other law enforcement--is, at best, derivative.
More often than not it is also fictional.

Google lists 2.7 mil raw hits, but most of them are "on my six X" or
"on my six-X Y" taken out of context, not specifically "on my six" as
a complete singular expression of direction.

GB has a total of 638 raw hits, so it's a bit more manageable. I have
not checked newspapers so far--nor do I intend to if the it's the
usual slog.

Rampant Raider: an A-4 Skyhawk pilot in Vietnam. By Stephen Roberts Gray. 2007
p. 102
> A few later hops, though, I was to learn the sickening feeling of having my opponent firmly established on my six and bringing his guns to bear as I, unable to shake him, ran out of airspeed and ideas, knowing that if this had been real combat I would most likely be dead.

p. 112
> Within a few passes and turns, I was in the familiar predicament: all my energy bled off, in a slow-speed buffet, with Raider firmly established in firing position on my six.

p. 215
> "This is Eagle Two. There is a MiG on my six!"

Prayer at Rumayla: A Novel of the Gulf War. By Charles Edward Sheehan-Miles
p. 93
> "Black six, blue four," calls Arno. "I don't know what the status is on my six, over."

The great rock discography By Martin Charles Strong, John Peel. 2002
p. 53
> Lucky Pierre
> Sep '02 (12") Angels on Your Body. / Bogey on My Six

A Casualty of War. By Josh Gordonp. 2002
p. 84
> As I pulled out of my run into a deep turn that would allow me to make a third sweep past the ship, a Scythe followed on my six.

Violence of Action‎. By Richard Marcinko. 2002
p. 44
> With the kids on my six I headed toward the mansion's front door.
> “If it isn't Richard-Motherfucking-Marcinko!”

In reference to a 6-cylinder car engine (B. 3. l.):

Popular Mechanics‎. Aug 1979
Ask the DuPont Car Doctor. [Advertisement] p. 170
> Q. A compression gauge gave me the bad news that compression is way down on my six. Any way of telling whether it's the rings or the valves?

Popular Mechanics. Volume 114, no. 2. Aug 1960
Rambler is comfortable and easy to drive, but marred by minor flaws,
say owners. p. 90
> "Rambler advertising of 'up to 30 miles per gallon' is misleading in my opinion. I average 16.8 on my Six with automatic transmission." — California Naval officer. "Even my '55 Statesman (Nash Six) got more miles to the gallon than my Rambler (20 miles per gallon over-all)."

These two are not particularly interesting. OED has "six" going back
to 1920 in this context and there is nothing special about this
combination. I am citing them simply to contrast with the specific use
above and to illustrate the kind of hits that have to be ruled out in
search of the other one. Note, in particular, that none of the usual
orthographic tells--capitalization, quotation marks--give away exactly
how old this use is. The 1960 reference uses "Six". I came across a
1980 magazine that had "Six" capitalized and in quotation marks, but
representing the same six-cylinder engine as all the others. It's not
even clear why it should be capitalized /at all/.

Also, there is only the elliptical cricket reference for "six", as in
"six runs" (adj. A. 2. h. and n. B. 6.: equivalent of baseball home
run, I suspect). But it is also used in American football commentary,
not just specifically to signify actually scoring six points (e.g.,
"Giants put six on the board.") but also in anticipation of scoring a
touchdown (e.g., "With time running out, Marshall is going for six.").

I am not citing any references in this specific context--they should
be relatively easy to track down, although antedating them might be a
pain. Nor did I complete the search of "on my six". But I did want to
flag both of these for dictionary purposes.


The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

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