Watch Your Six – Meaning, Origin and Usage

When someone shouts or even whispers ‘Watch your six’ their words and facial expression are often heavy with meaning. But, the meaning won’t necessarily be obvious to everyone, which is why I pulled a few words together to explain everything you need to know. 

I will cover the meaning of the phrase, how it originated, and also provide several examples of how someone might use the phrase in different contexts.Then, to top that off, I;ll also throw in a few alternative words and phrases that you can use in place of ‘Watch your six’ should you decide to. Here goes…

What is the Meaning of the phrase ‘Watch Your Six’?

Simply put, the phrase ‘watch your six’ simply means ‘watch your back’

The context in which the phrase ‘watch your six’ is used determines its meaning. For example, this could be a warning that someone or something is coming up behind the person receiving the message. Or in other contexts the phrase ‘watch your six’ could simply be a more general warning, such as ‘watch your back’ or ‘watch out’.

What is the Origin of the phrase ‘Watch Your Six’?

The phrase ‘watch your six’ is derived from military usage, more specifically the air force. It comes from the use of their clock-positioning system, or clock bearing. This system uses the metaphor of a clock face to establish the whereabouts of objects or living things in terms of where they are relative to the person you’re communicating with.

Basically, it’s assumed that the person you’re communicating with is positioned at the centre of the clock, facing 12 o’clock. This would mean that directly behind them is 6 o’clock, their right is 3 o’clock, and their left is 9 o’clock and so on. 

In the military, and in war films of course, phrases concerning clock position may have referred to where a potential enemy is, where supplies or ammo can be found, where there might be a blind spot for some reason, or where something unidentified is.

When the clock positioning system began being used outside of the military, it was used for all manner of things, such as when looking for a particular item that may have previously been considered lost or missing.

The specific phrase ‘Watch your six’ in this clock positioning system ‘translates’ to ‘lookout behind you’. Or in other words, ‘watch your back’. This would have been a particularly valuable instruction to those in a military scenario, in a war zone or in training, given that a known enemy tactic is to sneak up from behind.

This greatly expanded the range of potential contexts in which the phrase can be used (including in the corporate world). Which leads us nicely to the next section…

How do you use the phrase ‘Watch Your Six’?

Sometimes, people use the phrase ‘Watch your six’ in a very literal sense, as was originally intended when it was first brought into use. However, the use of the phrase expanded over time to also refer to watching your back or simply to ‘watch out’.

Thus it can be used to provide a warning without having to get into specifics about what to watch out for, which could be handy if the person or people you have to watch out for could be listening in to the conversation.

Here are some examples of the phrase ‘Watch your six’ in use:

‘Watch your six – I’m coming up behind you!’

‘Watch your six – the boss is here.’

‘I can’t cover you, watch your six.’

‘Watch your six – the teacher’s gonna catch you!’

‘You want to watch your six with your timesheet – they’ve started doing checks.’

What are some other ways of saying ‘Watch Your Six’? 

Here are some suggestions of words and phrases you can use in replace of ‘watch your six:

  • ‘Watch out!’
  • ‘Careful’
  • ‘Be careful’
  • ‘Look out behind you!’
  • ‘Someone’s out to get you.’
  • ‘You need to have eyes on the back of your head.’
  • ‘Watch yourself’
  • ‘Enemy approaching’
  • ‘Keep an eye out’
  • ‘Watch your back’
  • ‘Cover for me’
  • ‘Stay on your toes’
  • ‘Be on guard’
  • ‘Be on high alert’.
  • ‘Stay alert’
  • ‘Be vigilant’
  • ‘We have to be vigilant.’
  • ‘Look around’
  • ‘Watch your ass’
  • ‘Watch your backs’
  • ‘You watch yourself’

Final Thoughts

I hope you’ve found this article useful. To summarise, the phrase ‘watch your six’ uses the clock positioning system to say ‘watch your back’. The phrase originated with the military, where it was meant literally. These days, however, the use of the phrase has expanded to mean ‘Watch out’ in general. This means that it can now be used in a lot more circumstances, such as in an office, factory, school, etc. Either way, it’s clearly a warning, and you should take heed of it if someone uses it with you.