This question on english.stackexchange.com asks if a word with multiple meanings could be misunderstood and result in death. This answer says:

The word 'five' is generally omitted from countdowns for warfare or similar given its similarity to the word 'fire'

e.g. Six... ... Four... Three.. Two...

The claim also appears unreferenced on the wikipedia page for coundown:

When counting down to the launch of an explosive, e.g. when testing a new model of gun, it is customary to omit "5" from the countdown sequence because "five" sounds too similar to 'Fire!'.

and other places, see an answer to this Quora question and a post on this forum

  • 3
    Can we find a more notable claim than an Internet random, with a brand new account and one upvote? It sounds like a troll.
    – Oddthinking
    Apr 13, 2017 at 13:09
  • 3
    Wikipedia makes the same claim, with a [citation-needed] flag - so same problem.
    – Oddthinking
    Apr 13, 2017 at 13:10
  • 1
    Don't have a reference but it is (as far as I know) standard practice in the British military to skip 'five' in a countdown, although my only evidence is anecdotal. The UK show 'scrapheap challenge' I remember them having a military engineer in for some explosives work and he omitted 'five' from all his countdowns, citing the same reason.
    – PhillS
    Apr 13, 2017 at 13:59
  • 2
    Don't know about English, but it's true in Hebrew, when counting for a fire strike (when several soldier fire at the same time) the count is 7-4-2-1-fire, the word for fire is "esh" (אש), so every number that has the "esh" sound in it is omitted, six is "shesh" (שש), five is "hamesh" (חמש) and three is "shalosh" (שלוש).
    – SIMEL
    Apr 13, 2017 at 14:49
  • 2
    @PhillS, if you could find that episode that would show that this exists at least in some parts of some english speaking military.
    – SIMEL
    Apr 13, 2017 at 15:01

1 Answer 1


Yes, at least sometimes.

In the 2nd episode of the 2nd season of the British TV show Scrapheap Challenge the challenge was to build a cannon. They tested the cannons in a DERA facility where "real" cannons are tested, and the test was supervised and lead by DERA personal.

When firing the second time, the host of the show asked the DERA person that was in charge (identified only as Maj. Reid):

Can you just explain why, when you are doing your countdown, you miss out number five?

To which he replies:

[W]e don't say number five because it sounds too much like fire, and if they missed a couple of numbers on the way and hear the first bit of it five, they could press the button before we are ready for them.

The entire episode can be seen in this YouTube video, and the answer quoted appears at 36:36 in the video.

This doesn't show that it's used in all parts of all English speaking militaries, it does show that at least one English speaking defence organization uses this.

  • That's funny, the reason I know about this is because of that particular episode of Scrapheap Challenge
    – cantsay
    Sep 15, 2019 at 19:35

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