Spartan signals

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Over their years of training and decades of combat, the SPARTAN-IIs and SPARTAN-IIIs have developed intricate shorthand communications systems for use among themselves. Many of these ideas are known and understood by the Spartans only, some of them being well-guarded secrets. These also sometimes make normal conversations with the Spartans impossible, as they can do a great deal inside their MJOLNIR armor that is indistinguishable from the outside. These signals include slight movements, cryptic statements, and radio communications. Many of the signals originally used by the SPARTAN-IIs were taught to the SPARTAN-IIIs by Lieutenant Commander Kurt Ambrose due to his past as a SPARTAN-II.[1] In the years after Lucy-B091 lost her ability to vocalize due to posttraumatic vocal disarticulation, she and Tom-B292 developed their own kind of sign language based on the signals Spartans use to communicate during a comms blackout.[2]

Hand signals and gestures[edit]

Many of the Spartans' signals comprise relatively simple hand gestures that can substitute for most verbal communication.[3] This is particularly emphasized on missions where COM silence is necessary.[4]

"Spartan smile"
Having grown up as soldiers, the Spartans kept their emotions to themselves, always controlling bursts of emotion. The closest thing to an emotional symbol is the "Spartan smile,"[5] used in place of a smile. The smile consists of a quick swipe across one's own faceplate with two fingers.[6][7] A typical response to the "smile" gesture is a slight nod.[1] In a more rare, emotional version of the gesture, a Spartan may swipe their fingers over another Spartan's faceplate, as seen when Kelly-087 expressed relief over seeing John-117 again after the Fall of Reach.[8] Variations of the gesture can also be used to convey other messages or emotions—to welcome someone,[1] show respect or bid farewell, as seen when Lucy-B091 made a two-finger gesture over Kurt Ambrose's faceplate.[9]
"Trouble ahead"
A Spartan scout may signal that there is trouble ahead with a slight shake of the head from side to side.[10]
"Stay cool"
A short lateral cut with the hand across the chest or mouth area signals the team to remain calm.[11]
"Inspect armor"
By making a circle in the air with one to two fingers to turn around, a Spartan signals that they want to visually inspect another Spartan's armor. Even if the computer diagnostics report everything as fine, Spartans do not take chances with their armor or any other machinery and still visually inspect each others' armor.[12]
"Come forward"
In combat, Spartans motion one another forward by flashing an index finger twice. Sometimes two fingers are used for this gesture.[13]
"Scout it out"
A team leader may order a member of the fireteam to scout ahead by holding up two fingers, pointing toward the team member's eyes and to the intended direction, and then slowly making a fist.[14]
"Stand down"
A team leader extends three fingers toward the floor or ground.[15]
"Cover me"
Using both hands to point at given members of one's team, turning one's hands to point to oneself and then nodding at one's destination signals the designated members of a team to provide the leader while he or she moves to a given spot.[16]
"Scan the area"
Pointing two fingers at one's eyes and making a flat fan motion across a given space signals a team to scan the area.[17]
"Spread out, eyes peeled"
A tiny jerk of the head by a team leader.[18]
Slowly making a fist signals a Spartan team to freeze.[19]
"Move in"
Holding up two fingers and then making a sideways cut signals a team to move into a given destination, such as a room.[19]
"Mic out"
Touching fingertips to mouth area of faceplate then signaling a thumbs down.[20]
"Get ready"
Pumping one's fist twice signals one's team to prepare.[21]
"Unknown ahead. Wait."
Spartans on patrol who spot something ahead that is not immediately discernible as ally or enemy will signify it to their teammates by making a hand signal with a thumb pressing into the palm and the other fingers inwardly curled.[13]
"Where are they?"
A horizontal circle gesture in the air.[22]
"Wait a second"
Flicking one's index finger up.[23]

Other gestures[edit]

  • The Spartans sometimes console one another non-verbally with a simple bump or gesture of the shoulder. They have become used to their MJOLNIR armor, so each move they make is deliberate. Hence, the gesture is easy to recognize and understand.[24] Setting a hand on another Spartan's shoulders is a highly expressive gesture signaling respect or relief.[25]
  • A subtle sideways "cut" gesture to a given direction signals other members of a team to direct their attention to something.[26]
  • A Spartan may silently ask for their team members' opinions on a given subject by holding up their hands with palms up and making a subtle shrug.[27]
  • The Spartans signal to one another to open private COM frequencies by the flick of a finger. It is a move performed only in non-combat situations, when the Spartans can pay attention to each other's movement. This way they can communicate with one another without any unintended people hearing the conversation.[28][29]
  • The Spartans may click a COM channel once or twice to get the attention of their teammates if they need assistance.[30] This gesture is impractical on Covenant installations and ships, as the Covenant are able to track UNSC communications and pinpoint the Spartans' position.[31]

HUD light signals[edit]

When operating in teams, Spartans employ a system of status lights on their heads-up displays, with a single light for each member to denote their statuses. The lights (blue/green, amber and red)[32] can be manipulated by the wearer at will and are most prominently used to acknowledge orders or report complications.[33] The Spartans use combinations of the lights as a silent messaging system;[34] the lights may, for example, be used to provide a countdown by flashing the red, amber and green lights in a sequence.[35]

Acknowledgment of an order is denoted by a single wink of one's green status light.[36] Using the amber or red lights instead indicates complications.[37]
"Enemy detected"
Blinking one's acknowledgment light twice indicates that the Spartan in question (usually the one taking point) has detected a hostile combatant. A third blink is a sign to open fire.[38]
"Friendly approaching"
Spartans inform allied positions that they are approaching by winking their acknowledgment lights green twice.[39]
"Open fire"
Rapidly blinking one's green status light.[40]
"All clear"
Flashing one's green status light three times.[41]
"Cease fire"
Flashing the red light once.[36]
Flashing an amber acknowledgment light twice.[42]
"Fall back"
Flashing the amber light twice.[36]
Flashing the red status light three times.[36]

Oly Oly Oxen Free[edit]

Oly Oly Oxen Free is a six-note, six-beat tone used as an all-clear code and the Spartan-IIs' best-kept secret. Virtually no non-Spartan knows it; the only known surviving non-Spartans being Cortana and Doctor Halsey, both close to the Spartans' "family". The Spartans learned it from their AI instructor Déjà on Reach when they were younger and have been using it ever since. This allows the Spartans to use it with guarded impunity over the COM to make others aware of their presence, location, or as an all-clear signal. Thus, the signal was extremely important to each Spartan; they would rather die than give up the significance of the tone, which could potentially be used to betray or endanger their teammates. Spartans would either just whistle the tone or would whistle it and shout "Oly Oly Oxen Free" after. The proper counter-response was "Oly Oly Oxen Free, All out in the free, We're all free."[43] The phrase Oly Oly Oxen Free was once used by children playing hide-and-seek, which meant that the game was over and they could safely come out of hiding.

During the Battle of Genesis, Cortana used "Oly Oly Oxen Free" to signal Blue Team upon their arrival on the planet. The team noted that it had been a long time since they had used the signal, but John-117 recognized that it was Cortana signaling them and activates the console the signal came from. After finding another console with the signal coming from it, John activated that console as well. After finally reaching Blue Team by comms, Cortana explained that the consoles she led them to were two of the three needed to activate the Gateway to the Domain.[44]

Production note[edit]

A line of dialog cut from Halo 3 features "Oly Oly Oxen Free, All out in the free. We're all free!" as one of Cortana's quasi-rampant lines, many of which are direct references to the early Halo novels.[45]

List of appearances[edit]


  1. ^ a b c Halo: Ghosts of Onyx, page 16
  2. ^ Halo: Fractures, Lessons Learned
  3. ^ Halo: The Fall of Reach, pages 117-118 (2001 edition)
  4. ^ Halo: Ghosts of Onyx, page 52
  5. ^ Halo: Ghosts of Onyx, page 366
  6. ^ Halo: First Strike, page 268 (2003 edition)
  7. ^ Halo: Ghosts of Onyx, page 258
  8. ^ Halo: First Strike, page 188 (2003 edition); page 217 (2010 edition)
  9. ^ Halo: Ghosts of Onyx, page 369
  10. ^ Halo: First Strike, page 136 (2003 edition); page 167 (2010 edition)
  11. ^ Halo: Ghosts of Onyx, page 205
  12. ^ Halo: First Strike, page 299 (2003 edition)
  13. ^ a b Halo: Ghosts of Onyx, page 164
  14. ^ Halo: The Fall of Reach, page 184 (2001 edition)
  15. ^ Halo: Retribution, chapter 10
  16. ^ Halo: First Strike, page 305 (2003 edition)
  17. ^ Halo: First Strike, page 304 (2003 edition)
  18. ^ Halo: The Fall of Reach, pages 182-183 (2001 edition)
  19. ^ a b Halo: The Fall of Reach, page 206 (2001 edition)
  20. ^ Halo: Retribution, chapter 24
  21. ^ Halo: Ghosts of Onyx, page 260
  22. ^ Halo: Ghosts of Onyx, page 305
  23. ^ Halo: Ghosts of Onyx, page 254
  24. ^ Halo: First Strike, page 8 (2003 edition)
  25. ^ Halo: Ghosts of Onyx, page 254
  26. ^ Halo: Ghosts of Onyx, page 171
  27. ^ Halo: Ghosts of Onyx, page 213
  28. ^ Halo: First Strike, page 3 (2003 edition)
  29. ^ Halo: First Strike, page 120 (2003 edition)
  30. ^ Halo: First Strike, page 16 (2003 edition)
  31. ^ Halo: First Strike, page 314 (2003 edition)
  32. ^ Halo: Ghosts of Onyx, page 217
  33. ^ Halo: First Strike, page 111 (2003 edition)
  34. ^ Halo: Ghosts of Onyx, page 258
  35. ^ Halo: Ghosts of Onyx, page 217
  36. ^ a b c d Halo: Ghosts of Onyx, page 250
  37. ^ Halo: Ghosts of Onyx, page 235
  38. ^ Halo: The Fall of Reach, page 181 (2001 edition)
  39. ^ Halo: Ghosts of Onyx, page 258
  40. ^ Halo: Ghosts of Onyx, page 114
  41. ^ Halo: Ghosts of Onyx, page 334
  42. ^ Halo: Ghosts of Onyx, page 166
  43. ^ Halo: First Strike, page 166 (2003 edition)
  44. ^ Halo 5: Guardians, Reunion
  45. ^ YouTube: Halo 3 - Cut Mission Dialog Part (2/2)