Roger What?

I had one of my many, “I wonder…” moments while listening to NPR’s review of Monuments Men the other day. In the clip, George Clooney says, “Roger that,” which made me wonder, why Roger? Why not Tom that? Or Yancy that? Roger really rolls off the tongue, sure. But there has to be more to it than that.

According to popular culture, the military and other frequent users of radio (police, fire, alien hunters) use certain words in lieu of letters so that like-sounding letters don’t get misinterpreted on the receiving end. For example, “Bravo” is a lot more efficient — and badass — than saying “B as in bumblebee” while reading off a license plate in the midst of a high speed chase down the highway d’jour. This  system is known as the NATO phonetic alphabet, but is more accurately known as the International Radiotelephony Spelling Alphabet.

So you might assume Roger is short for R. But that’s not how it’s used. (Romeo, wherever fore art he, holds that honor.) Instead you hear Clooney bark “Roger that” in response.

As Cookie Monster might tell you in a bout of pre-binge pseudo-coherence, R is for a lot of different things. In Roger’s case, it’s for “Received.” According to the Allied Communications Publication Communication Instructions Radiotelephone Procedures — which was declassified in 2001 and is a really, really cool document — Roger is shorthand for “I have received your last transmission satisfactorily.”

So Roger has become the go-to guy for order confirmation — and that’s why he’s so popular among the ladies and fellas in uniform.

photo credit: Michael Osmenda, Creative Commons/flickr