Received, Will Comply

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
E Echo . Easy Easy Easy Easy
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
M Mike _ _ Mike Mike Mike Mike
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
T Tango _ Tare Tare Tare Tare
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.

Where Are We Going With This?

The other day I banged out a sentence on the ole laptop and paused when my son interrupted my thought process to ask a question.  When I returned my attention to the sentence, one word in particular caught my attention.  My head tilted as I assessed the word, questioned the spelling.  Strangely enough, the obnoxious red squiggles Microsoft Word is so found of hadn’t appeared, so I assumed I’d spelled it correctly.  Still, something didn’t look quite right.  Or perhaps I should say spot-on.

Perhaps you’ve guessed by now that I spelled the word in question, travelling/traveling, as if I was writing for our friends across the pond.  I mentioned before in How Reading Taught Me to Misspell Words that I’ve been tripped up by the British spelling preferences.  Usually, Word catches them.  Not so this time.

I’ll cut to the chase and tell you that travelling and traveling are both verbs meaning to go from one place to another, as on a trip or journeyThis isn’t a case of a second or third definition.  In fact, the two spellings can be used interchangeably.  What’s more, what I’m about to tell you applies to travelled/traveled and traveller/traveler.

So what’s the difference, you ask?  There isn’t one.  Today’s The Weight of Words is another example of British versus American spelling preferences.  British writers employ the double L version of the word and American writers go for the single L spelling.  No big deal if you’re jotting off a note to someone or a private letter.  But if you’re writing a larger work for a particular audience or about Brits or Americans specifically, it might be wise to use a spelling your intended readers will not think is a mistake.

A tidbit of research uncovered the reason behind the differences in spellings:

Each word has its own unique history, but the primary mover and shaker in this transatlantic drama is the nineteenth century American lexicographer Noah Webster, he of dictionary fame.  According to “A History of English Spelling” (Manchester University, 2011) by D.G. Scragg, Webster’s dictionary of 1828 is largely responsible for standardizing the accepted spelling of American English.

Before 1828, many words, such as humor (or humour), defense (or defence) and fiber (or fibre), had two acceptable spellings on both sides of the pond, because they were introduced in England via both Latin and French, which used different spellings.  Webster picked his preferred forms (the former ones in each example above), justifying his choices in various ways, but partly on nationalist grounds:  he wanted American spelling to be distinct from, and (in his opinion) superior to, British spelling.

I can appreciate Mr. Webster’s patriotism, but sometimes I wish he’d chosen another way to express it rather than in different spellings.


Wolchover, Natalie. “Why Do Brits and Americans Spell Words Differently?” LiveScience, Purch, 17 Apr. 2012,

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