The phrase, “what’s your twenty?” is commonly heard in older movies and TV shows involving police radios and truck driver CB radios and it means “where are you?”. It refers to the 20th item on the Official Ten-Code List – the 10-20 “location” code.
The Association of Public-Safety Communications Officials-International (APCO) expanded an already existent (1937) series of ten codes in 1974 and their usage continues today, although most police departments are trying to phase them out. They were created when radio frequencies were limited and were effective in reducing voice messages over the police radios.
Ten-Code usage became even more prominent when the CB (Citizen’s Band) radio craze began in the late 1970s. The country song “Convoy”, and the movie later based on it, caused “what’s your twenty” and “10-4″ (which means “understood”) to become permanent entries in American English dictionaries. I never understood the fad and I never owned a CB radio.
Notable TV Series using 10-Codes
As a child of the 1960s, I remember “10-4″ from the syndicated reruns of “Highway Patrol“, which originally aired on TV from 1955 to 1959, and as a teenager in the 1970s, I remember more 10-codes than I care to and most of them I remember from “Adam-12“, which aired from 1968 to 1975.
There were a whole lot of cop shows back in the 70s and 80s and a lot of them have been recycled as Hollywood movies. I’ll bet you can name a few, including Adam-12, if you think about it for more than a minute. Off the top of my head, “Charlies Angels”, “Dragnet” and “Starsky and Hutch” ring a bell. All of the “cop” characters used and responded to 10-codes in the series originals but I can’t remember if the movie versions used them or not.
Are 10-Codes Important?
I’ve lived in the Philippines since April of 2006, so I’m not up to speed on how prevalent the 10-codes are these days. They’re not important to police officers, at any level, because police radios are far more powerful and intricate than they used to be.
I’m sure the lingo is still being used by “citizens” out on the open road but probably not as much as I can imagine. More than likely, it’s the nostalgia thing that will keep it going.