Did someone just tell you to “watch your six,” and you have no idea what they are talking about with their warning? This post unpacks everything you need to know about the origin and meaning of this idiomatic phrase.
Watch Your Six Meaning
You’ll probably hear actors saying “watch your six” in movies with a military theme, and you might hear the expression from your friends or colleagues from time to time. To “watch your six” means to pay attention to what’s behind you.
However, many people also use the term as a general warning to pay attention to your entire surroundings. While the phrase has military origins, it is in regular use in the civilian population. The term refers to a mechanical clock face, with the “12” position being north, in front of you, and the “6” being the area behind you.
Watch Your Six Example Usage
“Watch your six; intel says the insurgents will be coming over that rise in the next few minutes.”
“The boss is on the rampage right now looking for any excuse to fire people; watch your six and make sure he doesn’t catch you taking a break.”
“There’s a string of home robberies going through the neighborhood. Watch your six, and don’t become a victim.”
Watch Your Six Origin
The colloquial term “Watch your six” comes from the military, specifically the US military. However, it’s widely used today in all armies worldwide and the public sector. The Air Force is the first branch of the armed forces to use the term, using points on a clock face to indicate physical positioning on the battlefield.
The clock-positioning system lets soldiers and pilots better understand where the enemy was on the battlefield. It allows them to focus their attention on these sectors. Using the number-based system, soldiers would spend less time sharing coordinates, allowing for quicker re-positioning on the battlefield.
For example, it’s much easier to say, “we have enemy sighted at 1-o’clock,” rather than, “we see the enemy at north northeast.” The use of “watch your six” in battle was an easy way for military operators to tell their fellow combatants to watch out behind them.
It’s a common military tactic to sneak up on your enemy from behind, as they don’t have eyes in the back of their head. Approaching from the rear would give the enemy an advantage of surprise over the troops.
“Watch your six” started to evolve as it entered the corporate world, referring to the practice of ensuring that you don’t leave yourself exposed to other people’s mistakes or to watch out for unexpected events on the job.
Phrases Similar to Watch Your Six
- Watch your back.
- Keep an eye out.
- Be on guard.
- Stay on your toes.
- Cover for me.
Phrases Opposite to Watch Your Six
- Relax and unplug.
- No need to pay attention.
- Nothing to see here.
What is the Correct Saying?
- Watch your six.
Ways People May Say Watch Your Six Incorrectly
Some people may use “watch your six” to describe the time or to tell the person to pay attention to the time. This is the incorrect use of the term as it has nothing to do with time or physical timepieces. The phrase also refers to watching what is behind you, not what’s in front of you.
Acceptable Ways to Phrase Watch Your Six
You can use “watch your six” in various scenarios in both the professional world and in social situations. In both situations, you would be using it as a warning to tell people to watch out for incoming danger from people or processes. Most people will understand what you mean due to the use of this idiom in entertainment like films and TV shows.