You must have heard phrases like “Roger that”, “Copy that” or “Over and out” at least a few times in your life. Perhaps it was from someone who served in the military or even on TV or in a film. Have you ever thought about the origins of these strange phrases? Or wonder what people mean when they say What’s your twenty?”

The conversations going on inside military headsets may sound Greek to an outsider, while other phrases have made it into our everyday lives. Even if you’ve never been in the military or relied upon radio communication, learning the lingo can help you in some of the most unexpected situations.

Roger That?

The word “Roger” is part of the phonetic alphabet, which was used back in WWII. At that time, clear radio communication was highly important for the majority of military maneuvers.

Misunderstanding an order could amount to disaster. Meanwhile, the quality of sound in tactical headsets of the time left much to be desired.

Today, you may have heard the phonetic NATO alphabet, in which “N” is November and “R” is Romeo. Back in the WWII days, Roger stood for “R”. “Romeo” replaced “Roger” in 1957.

Back when two-way radio communication was unavailable, people used Morse code. Conveying long messages with that code was very time-consuming, so many words were replaced with letters. One of them was the frequently used word “received”, which people shortened to “R”. That “R” eventually turned into “Roger”.


Everyone knows that Mayday is a word that signals trouble. It is an internationally used signal for distress. The origins of this word go back to a French word m’aidez, which translates as “Help Me”.

Some sources date the first use of this word to 1923. With the appearance of the two-way radio communication, people realized that S.O.S. often didn’t sound clear over the radio. Saying “Save Our Ship” or “Save Our Souls” was too long. So one of the British airport radio officers came up with “Mayday”, which will soon celebrate its 100th anniversary.

According to the leading experts from CJ Components, the modern headsets convey the highest quality sound, so distinguishing an “S” is quite easy. However, Mayday has already cemented its place in the radio dictionary.

What’s Your 20?

This phrase is a bit less popular than the above two. However, it’s still used by many people and often in a way that’s unrelated to military radio communication. In fact, “20” from “What’s your twenty” is just part of the series of “10” codes.

If you hear “10-20”, you need to reveal your location. If you say “10-36”, you are asking for the current time. If the police officer says “10-55”, he or she has spotted an intoxicated driver, and so on.

Other popular radio communication phrases include “Wilco”, meaning will comply, and “Over And Out”, which indicates the communication is over.

Radio communication has numerous nuances. So these common words and phrases are just the tip of a pretty big iceberg, but it’s interesting to finally understand how they came about.