The Word "BRAT"

When most people think of the word "brat," they think of spoiled children, but when it's used to describe people who have grown up military, it means something completely different. For over 200 years, people who've been raised in Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine, and Coast Guard families have been called "military brats." Navy kids have also been called Navy "juniors."

We shall all lead more happy Lives,
By getting rid of Brats and Wives,
That scold and brawl both Night and Day;
Over the Hills and far away...”
— George Farquhar, 1707, song about soldier life from the satirical play, The Recruiting Officer
A Buffalo Soldier and his family. Library of Congress.

A Buffalo Soldier and his family. Library of Congress.

No one knows for sure, but researchers Dr. Grace Clifton, Dr. Rebecca Powell, and Dr. Morten Ender think the term originated in England, where British military children and wives were once called "British Regiment Attached Travelers" or "BRATS." The children were also referred to as "barrack rats," which might have been shortened to "brats."

Some just think it means "a child." Still others have come up with creative acronyms like "Bold Responsible Adaptable Tolerant."

However and wherever it originated, the term stuck, and millions of people around the world who have grown up in military families (in America, Britain, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and more) call themselves "brats."

"It's spunky!" author Mary Edwards Wertsch says - and goodness knows a military kid can use a little spunk.

To read the full article with references by Drs. Clifton and Powell, click here.

To find out more about British military brats, see TACA, the British Army Children Archive.

To read Donna Musil's Op-Ed about the "Brats v. Champs" debate, click here.

Banner photo of noncommissioned officers picnic, 22nd Infantry, Ft. Keogh, Montana, circa 1890. Courtesy of NARA, the National Archives and Records Administration.