Jolly Roger

Originally published by The Lookout Newspaper, on 23 January 2023, this article is reproduced here in its unedited state.

Roger is a voice communications proword which means “received and understood,” i.e., “The formation will transit Haro Strait at 0900.” Reply: “Roger.”

With the use of Roger being as commonplace as it is today, it is strange how most people do not know the derivation of the term. One explanation is a tidy piece of folklore which states ROGER is an acronym meaning, “Received Order Given Expect Results.” Alternatively, there is a more logical explanation of how Roger began to be used in the 1940s when the name “Roger” was the “spelling alphabet” equivalent for “R,” the first letter in the word “received.”

Roger is such a commonly used proword that it leaks from the voice communications world to a sailor’s everyday jargon, i.e., “Bloggins, will you pass me the navy gravy?” Bloggins: “Roger.”

In voice communications, Roger is often combined with the prowords over or out, as “Roger over,” or “Roger out.” Over is used when a reply is expected. Out is used when no reply is expected or required. The phrase “over and out” is something you may hear in popular culture, but it is never used in actual practice.

Proword is short for procedures word, and describes the specific words and phrases used in radio telephone communications. Other common prowords are Wilco, which means,”I understand and will comply,” Say again, used to request a message be repeated, and Correction which means, “I made an error in this transmission. Transmission will continue with the last word correctly sent.”

While Roger is a method of verbal acknowledgement, the correct way to respond to an order given by a superior is Aye Aye, which means, “I understand the command and hasten to comply with the order.” While the word Aye is derived from the Olde English “ay”, which means “ever,” it is thought Aye Aye was a derivative of the British words Yea Yea, and a quick-talking Cockney accent changed the Yea Yea to Y-eye Y-eye. If said fast you will hear, “Aye Aye.”

Made famous in pirate movies,“Arr” means “Yes” and it was likely derived from “Aye.” Whether pirates actually used “arr” is a matter of debate. Of course, there are no audio records of those that flew the Jolly Roger.

Incidentally, Jolly Roger is the traditional name for a flag flown to identify a pirate ship, commonly consisting of a skull and crossbones on a black field. Usage of this particular flag is reported to have begun in the 1700s by pirates Black Sam Bellamy, Edward England, and John Taylor. The title Jolly Roger is thought to be derived from the French phrase “joli rouge,” meaning “pretty red,” and used in reference to a red flag originally used by French privateers. The colour red was used to reference violence once associated with pirate activities and the colour of blood.

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