What does “What’s your 20?” mean?

You may have heard many people say – What’s your 20?

Have you ever wondered what it meant, how this term was coined, and how is it used today? Well, here are all the answers you are looking for.

 

The Short Answer

“What Does What’s Your 20 Mean?” is simply CB slang for “What’s your location?”.

The US law enforcement used the phrase “What Does What’s Your 20 Mean?” and other 10-codes back in the day.  (© Photographee.eu – stock.adobe.com)

 

The Long Answer

To understand where this term originated from, let’s take a quick down memory lane. In 1958, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) decided to allocate frequencies and termed it Citizen’s Bank (CB!). This frequency became popular with small business owners who were frequently on the road. So, truck drivers, plumbers, electricians, and so on began to use the CB radio to communicate in the 1960s.

As CB radios became cheaper and smaller, their popularity exploded. A whole new language called CB Slang was born. CB radios became crucial for law enforcement and truckers as a means of communication by the 1970s.

What’s your 20? originated from 10-20, which was a part of the 10-Code that was used by truckers to pinpoint each other’s locations. The 10-Code was the easiest way to communicate quickly and clearly – mostly when radio signals were poor.

 

What is the 10-Code?

As I said, the 10-Code, also known as 10 Signals, is a list of shorthand codes used by law enforcement officers, truckers, and other radio operators to get information across to each other quickly.

Do you know that these codes were invented in 1937 by the US Navy? Then, in 1974, these codes were expanded by APCO (Association of Public-Safety Communications Officials-International).

10-Codes were used most by US law enforcement so that stray listeners would not understand what they were saying to each other. However, nothing remains a secret for long, and these codes soon gained popularity with CB enthusiasts.

And then, as I said, a whole new community – the truckers and small business owners – was using this list of codes to communicate with each while driving across the country. CB slag expanded into a whole language, but the 10-Codes still remained at the heart of radio communication.

So, if you are interested in finding out about the meanings of some of the most popular 10-Codes, here they are.

  • 10-1: I hear you, but with difficulty
  • 10-2: I hear you clearly
  • 10-3: Stop your transmission
  • 10-4: I have received your message
  • 10-5: Pass this message on to a third party
  • 10-6: I am busy
  • 10-7: Out of service/Off radio
  • 10-8: In service
  • 10-9: Repeat your message
  • 10-10: Negative
  • 10-11: On duty
  • 10-12: On radio
  • 10-13: Traffic or weather conditions report
  • 10-14: Prepare to receive a message
  • 10-15: There is a disturbance
  • 10-20: My location is…
  • 10-32: Radio check
  • 10-36: Time check

This list is just a small part of the entire code and is the most popular that was used – and recognized.

 

The Meaning and Usage of “What’s Your 20?” Nowadays

What’s your 20 is an old code that is no longer officially used by US law enforcement today. The code expanded over the years, but it was no longer standardized. Unique versions of the code began to be used in different states and different state departments.

Over the decades, there were many attempts made to change and standardize the codes – or even introduce new ones. But all these attempts failed. Finally, the Federal government discontinued its use back in 2006 because of this lack of standardization. Instead, the police were asked to use everyday language to communicate over the radio.

You would think that once the codes were discontinued, they would die out. But that’s not how language works. When slang is used a lot and becomes popular, it becomes a part of speech.

Of course, television and radio have also helped popularize this code. Cop shows and even reality shows about truckers used these Codes, especially our favorite – what’s your 20.

Thus, today, what’s your 20 is used colloquially by people in the US. And it still means the same thing – where are you? It’s not unusual for people to text each other and ask – what’s your 20? I know friends who will text me and ask me this question, and I answer back with my location! Even now!

This phrase still remains very popular with die-hard walkie-talkie and CB radio enthusiasts. And even though the government has abandoned its use, you will always hear law enforcement officials across the country still using this phrase!

 

Conclusion – What does “What’s your 20?” mean?

There is still a massive debate about whether the government did the right thing by abandoning the 10-Codes rather than standardizing them. And even though this is a really old phrase, it is still used frequently by many – especially CB lovers.

 

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