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A Dictionary of Old School Highway Lingo

Illustration for article titled A Dictionary of Old School Highway Lingo

You know what's better than swearing like a sailor? Talking like a trucker. No, I'm not kidding. Maybe you recall the Burt Reynolds flick Smokey and the Bandit, wherein Bandit manages to bootleg 400 cases of Coors and evade the law by communicating with his partner, Snowman, over CB radio. That's citizens band radio to those of you unfamiliar with the 40 channels of two-way radio best known for honing the argot of truckers in the '70s. And man could these American itinerants spit jargon!


You, too, can incorporate this often hilarious dialect when talking to friends, enemies, lovers, whatever. It's really not that difficult. So, in what situations could you drop a phrase like "Kojak with a Kodak" or similarly ridiculous things? Here's the guide to the real language of the open road, and how to use it on or off the road.

Water Bill

Need a restroom? In CB slang, you'd excuse yourself with a quick, "It's time to pay the water bill," which is a pretty amazing way to announce that nature's calling.


Meat Wagon

You're not one to play backseat driver, but your friend doesn't hear the sirens of an ambulance. Best way to broach the subject of pulling over? "There's a meat wagon behind us. Get off the road!"


Wiggle Wagon

A wiggle wagon is a truck with multiple trailers behind it. Especially pertinent if his backend is all over the road.



Cops are always bears. Sometimes truckers get literal and will refer to a cop as "Smokey." "There's a bear at your backdoor" refers to a cop creeping up on you. Likewise, a "bear in the air" means a cop in a helicopter. A "bear cage" is prison!


Colorado Kool-Aid

Otherwise known as a cold brewskie.

Reading the Mail

This is another way to say "listening to the radio without speaking," the trucker equivalent to lurking on the internet.


Buster Brown

You're waiting for a package from UPS? If your delivery guy passes a truck driver on the way to your house, he'll be called out for being a "Buster Brown."


Gumball Machine

This means a cop's lights are lit up — and probably heading for you!

Driving Award

Why think of it as a speeding ticket when you can conceptualize it as a "driving award"? Congrats, you win!


Happy Happy and Merry Merry

Don't know if you should be saying "Merry Christmas" or "Happy Holidays?" Truckers just say "Merry merry" anyway. Same goes for New Year's: "Happy happy!" Really gets to the point, doesn't it?



CB slang words and phrases are one thing, but what if you want to communicate quickly and completely incognito? Enter the shorter, numerical 10-codes, of which there are just over a hundred. When truckers want to get right to the point, they might say "10-12" to alert other truckers within a five-mile radius: "Visitors present." A CB slang query like "What's your 20?" is asking for your location — but if you want to get technical it's really "What's your 10-20?"

Did I miss one of your favorites? Have your own driving codes? Add to the dictionary in the comments.


[Image via Flickr/Randy Heinitz]

Kaitlin Phillips is a writer living in Manhattan. Her work has appeared in Vice, New York, and n+1.


Read more Good To Be Bad here.

This post is a sponsored collaboration between Jaguar and Studio@Gawker.

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