I confess, I’m a word nerd. Ever since my love of reading developed, I have been fascinated by words. More so now that I’m a writer. I admit that I still read with a dictionary, or at least my cell phone, beside me so I can look up words I don’t know. How else would one expand his/her vocabulary? One of my favorite discoveries regarding words is the second, third, or even fourth definition of a commonly used word. “Yep, she’s a nerd,” you’re thinking.
But that’s totally fine by me because I know that great words often lead to really cool phrases. Take today’s The Weight of Words example: Roger Wilco. Not just words but a name, perhaps?
I recently used this phrase in a text to my son, and I realized I had no idea from whence it came! How could that be? Well, no matter. I’ll simply conduct a little research and share my findings with you.
Per Paul Cuadrado answering the question “Where did the phrase Roger Wilco originate?” on Quora:
As the United States entered into World War II, communications officers decided to use a phonetic code in which a common word was used in place of a single letter. This was necessary because simply spelling out a word, a command, or a coordinate was inefficient and often unclear to the listener.
As a result, “Roger” came to represent the letter R, which was vocalized shorthand for Received or message received.
Similarly, “Wilco” is radio shorthand for “will comply” or “will cooperate.”
“What’s his expertise on the subject?” you ask. Well, check out his profile comment: 40+ years teaching English, life-long gardener, and word nerd.
And while I gave my fellow word nerd the benefit of the doubt, I also conducted a little more research.
I started by looking up the military alphabet, and at first, it seemed as if Mr. Cuadrado was a smidgen wrong because every chart I found listed the word “Romeo” for the letter R, not “Roger.” A small clue in his answer led me to dig deeper into alphabets used during World War II, and that’s when I hit upon the chart below.
It’s a bit unwieldy for this post, but the comparison of words to letters and their progression was just too interesting to abandon.
|Letter||1957-Present||Morse Code||1913||1927||1938||World War II|
|A||Alfa (or Alpha)||. _||Able||Affirmative||Affirm||Affirm (Able)|
|B||Bravo||_ . . .||Boy||Baker||Baker||Baker|
|C||Charlie||_ . _ .||Cast||Cast||Cast||Charlie|
|D||Delta||_ . .||Dog||Dog||Dog||Dog|
|F||Foxtrot||. . _ .||Fox||Fox||Fox||Fox|
|G||Golf||_ _ .||George||George||George||George|
|H||Hotel||. . . .||Have||Hypo||Hypo||How|
|I||India||. .||Item||Interrogatory||Int||Int (Item)|
|J||Juliett||. _ _ _||Jig||Jig||Jig||Jig|
|K||Kilo||_ . _||King||King||King||King|
|L||Lima||. _ . .||Love||Love||Love||Love|
|N||November||_ .||Nan||Negative||Negat||Negat (Nan)|
|O||Oscar||_ _ _||Oboe||Option||Option||Option (Oboe)|
|P||Papa||. _ _ .||Pup||Preparatory||Prep||Prep (Peter)|
|Q||Quebec||_ _ . _||Quack||Quack||Queen||Queen|
|R||Romeo||. _ .||Rush||Roger||Roger||Roger|
|S||Sierra||. . .||Sail||Sail||Sail||Sugar|
|U||Uniform||. . _||Unit||Unit||Unit||Uncle|
|V||Victor||. . . _||Vice||Vice||Victor||Victor|
|W||Whiskey||. _ _||Watch||William||William||William|
|X||X-ray||_ . . _||X-ray||X-ray||X-ray||X-ray|
|Y||Yankee||_ . _ _||Yoke||Yoke||Yoke||Yoke|
|Z||Zulu||_ _ . .||Zed||Zed||Zed||Zebra|
I found the chart and the following paragraph on Military Africa. I suggest reading the entire article because I’m sure you’ll find it as interesting as I did.
In World War II, the United States military used a modified version of the Joint Army/Navy Phonetic Alphabet (JANAP). The alphabet was adopted in 1941, and in use until 1957, which was the year it was officially discontinued by the IRSA. Today the only parts of the JANAP WWII-era alphabet still in use include “Charlie,” “Mike,” “Victor” and “X-Ray.”
To wrap this up, several websites stressed that to transmit the reply “Roger” was not an agreement with the message. Rather, it was simply stating that the message had been received. Apparently, in military speak, this is an important detail. Only when “Roger Wilco” has been stated can the initiator of the conversation trust that his/her message has not only been received but will also be acted upon.
It may seem like a minor detail, but I’ll definitely keep it in mind the next time my mother asks me to do something, especially if it’s something I don’t really want to do.