The Marine Corps, like every military branch, has a language all its own. That isn’t to say that Marines don’t speak English – but the words we use come with a cultural context that often requires familiarity to translate. A casual observer may be able to glean that the “head” is actually the bathroom, but they may be surprised to learn that dividing the word “oorah” into its separate syllables produces two distinct words that can be used in place of entire sentences. “Urr,” for instance, can be a sarcastic affirmative, whereas “Rah!” may mean the same without the sarcasm. Change up your tone, and the definition of each will change with it.

It’s because of that cultural barrier that sometimes it’s hard for me to know which aspects of my internal monologue are unique to Marines or veterans, and which are a part of the standard cultural lexicon we all silently agree to converse through. When I say things in polite conversation like, “I’ve gotta get this article downrange before noon,” I sometimes catch myself wondering if my wife’s liberal aunt from Connecticut thinks I’m a lunatic. When my wife yells to me over a room full of shouting kids and doting parents that she wants me to take out the trash and I respond with a hearty “Yut,” on the other hand, I’m certain that I seem like a weirdo.

Maybe, then, the standard “10% rule” I grew so accustomed to while on active duty is a unique understanding among service members. Boiled down to its bones, the 10% rule basically states that 1 out of every ten Marines is an utter waste of space, so if we have a hundred Marines on a detail, ten of them will manage to hinder productivity, either through incompetence or laziness, while the rest (to their varying degrees of competency) will work to accomplish the mission. While I can’t be certain of this, I believe it actually originates from a quote by the Greek philosopher Heraclitus.

Out of every one hundred men, ten shouldn’t even be there, eighty are just targets, nine are the real fighters, and we are lucky to have them, for they make the battle. Ah, but the one, one is a warrior, and he will bring the others back.”