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Chances are if you heard “angels 14 tree fife niner,”after an air traffic controller asked a pilot for his altitude and heading it wouldn’t mean a thing to you. Some pilot lingo does seep into everyday life but not always with the correct meaning. In the “old” days before voice communication, aircraft used Morse code to communicate. 

Responding with the single letter “R” was short-hand to mean a transmission was received.  Today the phonetic value of “R” is “Romeo,” but before the late 50’s it was “Roger” and that is the meaning that stuck.  So today if a pilot responds “Roger” it means

“I heard what you said.” It does not mean yes, or OK or will do. It only means, “I heard you.” Years ago a mother was complaining to me about one of her kids. She said, “the only way I can get her to respond is by yelling!”  This child was suffering from a common childhood disease known as ASHD (my label!) for Adolescent Selective Hearing Disorder.  

The notable characteristic of children suffering from ASHD is that they can clearly hear the whispered conversation of their parents who are in a room over fifty feet away, with the door closed, discussing vacation plans!  On the other hand, with a straight face they declare they did not hear a thing when the same parents were yelling the child’s name at the top of their lungs down an open hallway!  And while having THIS conversation, the child may suddenly bolt to the other end of the house in response to the tiny sound of a cell phone text message alert!

There’s also an adult version, Adult Selective Hearing Disorder, which is how many people escape doing the things THEY ought to be doing.  Notice the following:

  • (John 14:24)  “He who does not love Me does not keep My words; and the word which you hear is not Mine but the Father’s....”

  • (John 10:27)  “My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me.”

  • (John 8:47)  “He who is of God hears God's words; therefore you do not hear, because you are not of God.”

  • (John 8:31-32)  “Then Jesus said to those Jews who believed Him, “If you abide in My word, you are My disciples indeed.”

Roger.  We got it.  We heard it.  We know it.  But that does NOT mean we are going to DO it! Compliance is actually from another military jargon word, “WILCO.”  Short for “will comply,” this was the desired response from any order received by military aircraft over the radio.  “Roger wilco” meant very simply, I heard the order and will comply.  Today, aircraft waiting for instructions from ATC often acknowledge with “ready to copy.” (Like Acts 17:10-12?)

Oh yes, the first transmission meant, “altitude 14,000 feet, heading 359 degrees.” - Tim Orbison


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