What does ‘wilco’ mean?

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Increase your vocabulary and you’ll make your writing much more precise. That’s why I provide a word of the week. Today’s word: wilco….

I was texting a good friend recently and after a brief exchange, received the following message from him: wilco. I immediately knew what he meant, of course: “Sure, I’ll do it; you can count on me.” I think I recognized the expression from cartoons in my youth or perhaps from old movies, although I had always known it as Roger Wilco, which also happens to be the name of the main character in the Space Quest series of computer games. (See image, above.) But what on earth was the origin of this phrase?

When I looked it up online, I slapped myself on the head. Of course wilco is short for “will comply.” And the roger comes from former phonetic alphabet shorthand for the word “received.” Note, however, that using roger wilco, together, marks you as a newbie because it’s redundant. If you say wilco — that is, “I will comply with your wishes” — it’s already clear that you have understood and the roger is entirely unnecessary.

Nowadays, the International Radiotelephony Spelling Alphabet, commonly known as the NATO phonetic alphabet uses Romeo instead of Roger for the letter R. Interestingly, to keep it truly international, it spells Alfa with an F rather than a PH so as to be more readily understandable to Europeans. And the extra T in Juliett is to signify to the French that the final T is pronounced, rather than silent.

Here is the complete alphabet, should you ever need to use it:

Alfa; Bravo; Charlie; Delta; Echo; Foxtrot; Golf; Hotel; India; Juliett; Kilo; Lima; Mike; November; Oscar; Papa; Quebec; Romeo; Sierra; Tango; Uniform; Victor; Whiskey; Xray; Yankee; Zulu.

An earlier version of this post first appeared on my blog on June 22/16.

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