Amateur radio operators have quite an interesting vocabulary.  This “ham-speak” may be called terminology, lingo, or jargon and it often includes many abbreviations.  If you don’t understand a term, just ask the person using ham-speak to explain it.  Don’t worry, you will figure these out over time.

A lot of the words are technical because hams use radios and electronics and antennas and cables and power supplies and meters and…well, quite a few gizmos that involve big and fancy words.

Other forms of ham-speak are more cryptic and non-technical.  Hams are equal-opportunity obfuscators; we can make an unintelligible mess out of anything!  Just kidding– there is often good reason for all of this terminology and abbreviation.

The technology part of ham-speak is largely unavoidable; there are no good alternatives for transceiver, impedance, modulation, propagation, and such terms.  There are, however, slang terms for some of these technical words and plenty of abbreviations.  For example, the word rig is used to describe a station’s radio, usually a transceiver.

Many of the abbreviations, shortcuts and code words derive from the early days of ham radio when Morse code was predominant.  All sorts of ways to simplify the sending of Morse characters were developed.  Besides brevity, some terms came about simply due to the memorable way they sound in Morse code (alliteration or palindrome).  Some of these Morse shortcuts are commonly used by voice even today.

A couple of excellent references for ham-speak (lingo/jargon, abbreviations, terminology) can be found here:



Expect to see future posts that explain particular terminology, codes, lingo/jargon, or abbreviations.

Having said all that, in general it’s best to use plain language when transmitting by voice unless the topic is truly technical in nature or when the audience is an experienced ham who clearly understands your jargon.  In most cases lingo and slang can be avoided.

To close out this brief introduction to ham-speak, I would be remiss to leave this out: Never, ever use 10-codes in ham radio!  Saying things like, “10-4” or “what’s your [10-]20?” will earn you plenty of shaming and scorn on the air from hams who know better.  10-codes are properly used by police officers and CB operators, not hams.


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