Between colloquial humor and slang, the military says some weird stuff (don't even get me started on acronyms), but some of the lingo has origins in so-called "voice procedure" and actually kind of makes sense.
Voice procedure is a set of techniques, protocols, and phrases used in two-way radio communications to reduce confusion and maximize clarity.
Here are a few of the big ones:
Saying "Roger" over the radio is shorthand for "I have received your message or transmission."
If you've ever tried spelling your last name over the phone with someone, you know that the English alphabet has letters that sound the same, so phonetic or spelling alphabets were created to convey letters.
In the '50s, this alphabet was standardized to the alphabet NATO militaries use today (Alpha, Bravo, Charlie, etc), but when the radio use in the military became prevalent, the word 'Roger' was used for "R."
The "R" in "received" was conveyed with "Roger" — and even though today "Romeo" stands for "R," good ol' "Roger" stuck.
"Mayday" is a signal word used to convey distress. It was deliberately chosen for this purpose in 1923 by Frederick Stanley Mockford, a senior radio official in England.
At the time, much of the radio communication was between French and English speakers, so Mockford needed a word that would be understood in both languages and wouldn't be commonly spoken.
"Mayday" is a rather unique phrase in English, but is also similar to the French word for "help me."
This is an appropriate time for the use of 'Mayday.' (Painting by Pierre Dénys de Montfort, 1801)
To further reduce confusion, "Mayday" is used three times in the beginning of a distress call. It is reserved for incidents where loss of life or craft is imminent — misuse is considered a serious crime.
"Copy" has its origins in Morse Code communications. Morse Code operators would listen to transmissions and write down each letter or number immediately, a technique called "copying."
Once voice communications became possible, 'copy' was used to confirm whether a transmission was received. Today it still means "I heard what you said" or "got it," similar to "roger."
10-4" does not actually have its roots in military-speak. Then ten-codes are used primarily by law enforcement to communicate common situations with brevity. For example:
10-4 Message Received
10-10 Fight In Progress
10-32 Person With Gun
What are your favorite or most baffling military terms?
Feature image: U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Mozer O. Da Cunha