Ordinance vs. ordnance, fact vs. fiction

Scene from "NCIS" with sign saying "Explosive Ordinance"

How do you tell a real military base from a fictional one?

Try checking the spelling.

I pulled these screenshots from an old episode of NCIS I was watching the other day.

In it, the agents had traveled to an area that military personnel used for disposing of ammunition and explosives, and for learning how to defuse bombs. To add a visual cue, the show’s producers had the actors walk past this sign for “Explosive Ordinance Disposal.”

Nah. Not unless the people there were blowing up paperwork.

Another view of "NCIS" sign that says "Ordinance Disposal."

An ordinance is a law or rule or decree. Ordnance, without an “i,” means weapons or ammunition.

Ordnance was derived from ordinance centuries ago, and the words have distinct meanings.

The military needs a place to dispose of its out-of-date ordnance. The rest of us need a place to dispose of some of the ill-conceived ordinances that spew from state legislatures and Congress like so many duds.

And Hollywood? It just needs a good dictionary.

A real flag for the Navy Bureau of Ordnance
A real flag for the Navy Bureau of Ordnance: Naval History and Heritage Command, via Flickr


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