For some, art is supposed to imitate life. Movies are supposed to represent different aspects of human nature, and plenty of movie directors are concerned with the verisimilitude of their work.
And, one of the largest areas where reality shows is dialogue and speech, which is why scriptwriters spend a lot of time trying to get the dialogue right and to make sure that the phrases and expressions used are representative of what is said in real life.
Alternatively, life also tends to imitate art. This can be most clearly seen when a certain phrase or expression gets popularized by a movie.
You have “Yippee-Ki-Yay, motherF*****” for all you Die Hard fans out there. There is also Robert De Niro’s “You talking to me?” and countless other examples.
However, today’s expression, “in the pipe, five by five,” represents a unique situation. It is a case of art imitating life and simultaneously of life imitating art.
What is the meaning of “in the pipe, five by five”?
“In the pipe, five by five” means that everything is going along fine and that you are on track to achieve your goal in the time frame set for you. It was used in James Cameron’s “Aliens” by Collete Hiller’s character, Ferro, the female pilot of the dropship.
Where does “in the pipe, five by five” come from?
“In the pipe, five by five” is actually two expressions mushed into one.
What is the meaning of “in the pipe”?
When something is in the works or is happening, you can say that is “in the pipeline.” This idiomatic expression is especially apt for things that have to follow a set procedure and have to go through several rigorous steps to be completed.
For example, if you’ve applied for membership at a specific club and want to know the status of your application, an employee there might notify you that your application is “in the pipeline.”
The idea here is that just as pipelines transfer materials from point A to point B and do so along a well-defined path, the application that is “in the pipeline” is heading towards a path of acceptance or rejection and is doing so by following well-defined steps.
Even though the expression first appeared within the petroleum industry, which sort of makes sense, you’ll find “in the pipeline” today used as business jargon a lot.
For instance, a company official might announce that they are unable to take any more orders at this time because their pipeline is filled.
“In the pipe” is just an abbreviated form of “in the pipeline.”
In fact, “in the pipe” is used in the navy. It was used to signal that an enemy vehicle was clear ahead and that it was possible to attack said vehicle.
For example, an aviator who was aimed correctly to bomb their target would say that they were “in the pipe.”
What is the meaning of “five by five”?
“Five by five” is actually military jargon. You see, when it comes to radio communication, there are two main scales to gauge the quality of the transmission.
On the one hand, you have transmission clarity. On the other hand, you have transmission strength.
Now, these two scales go from one to five, five being the highest and best quality. So, a “five by five” radio transmission is one where the strength and clarity are both optimal.
It is a perfect signal that couldn’t get any better. Conversely, a “one by two” transmission is dismal, where the signal clarity is as low as it can get and the signal strength isn’t much better.
Although the expression “five by five” started out in radio telecommunications, it didn’t take long for it to extend itself and be used in non-radio situations.
In fact, you could use it in everyday speech to mean “perfect” or “as good as it can get.”
Here is an example.
You can even hear the expression “five by five” in media and pop culture. For example, if you are a fan of “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” and “Angel,” you probably know that the eighteenth episode of “Angel”’s first season is called “Five by Five.”
You will also likely recognize the following conversation between Faith and Oz.
Putting the two together
While each of “in the pipe” and “five by five” has been used in the military, the combination of the two was never military lingo. “In the pipe, five by five” was created by “Aliens”’s scriptwriters to create something that sounded authentic.
However, after the movie came out, it didn’t take long for the expression to actually become military-speak.
So, how can you use it?
Well, here is an example.
Let’s say that you are working on a specific project, and your boss decides to check-up on you to see how everything is going.
What you basically just said is that the project is coming along nicely and should be completed by the expected deadline.
Back to “Aliens”
In the movie, “in the pipe, five by five” was used when the pilot of the dropship was trying to enter a planet during bad weather.
The ship’s navigation computer had calculated an optimal flight path, and this path was shown as a tube or pipe of sorts on the screen. So, what Ferro meant was that she was in the dead center of the flight path.
Despite “in the pipe, five by five” sounding slick, you might want to know a few other alternatives. For one thing, “in the pipe, five by five” is a bit wordy, and many people may not understand it.
Also, it is a bit informal, so there are several situations where it may be inappropriate to use.
“On target” is simple and to the point. It lets you know that something is going as planned. Better yet, it is more formal than “in the pipe, five by five,” so it is more appropriate in a work setting.
Rather than saying that you are reaching a specific target, you could let someone know that everything is happening when it should be. In other words, you could tell them that everything is “on schedule” and that there are no delays.
Hey fellow Linguaholics! It’s me, Marcel. I am the proud owner of linguaholic.com. Languages have always been my passion and I have studied Linguistics, Computational Linguistics and Sinology at the University of Zurich. It is my utmost pleasure to share with all of you guys what I know about languages and linguistics in general.