The Hidden Language Of Truckers

Jim McCormack

For anyone that has viewed long haul truckers in the movies, they are aware that they have a special language.  Although not as commonly used as a decade ago, for veterans on the road it still exists and a few terms have continued to survive over time.  Much of the change is due to the introduction of new technology, such as hands-free cell phones, but many still prefer the old way of doing things.



Their once highly colorful and elaborate language could be heard over CB radios as a form of short-hand.  However, drivers new to the industry tend to use Standard English, even though a few of the older terms and phrases seem to have survived over time.  For example, “smoky” or “bear” refers to police officers whereas “diesel bear” refers to a Department of Transportationofficer.  If “There’s a smoky in the woods” is heard over the airwaves, it means that a police officer is hidden in such a way that they are harder to detect, such as behind a sign or on a freeway onramp.

A couple of other terms have also lasted over time like “hammer,” which refers to the accelerator pedal.  By expanding on this term when a driver puts the “hammer down” they are speeding up, but this can also be referred to as “putting the pedal to the metal.”  When they use the “hammer lane” they are in the passing lane on a freeway.

One of the most common colloquialisms that have survived over time is a driver’s “handle.”  This is their nickname, which can be anything from “Scrub Bud” to “Chantilly Lace.”  This is one term that has not only survived over time, but has expanded to include internet pseudonyms.  People on the internet today use all kinds of nicknames to identify themselves to friends and family while online, which protects their true identify.



Although most of the “ten codes,” like “10/4” for okay and “10/20” for a driver’s location, have fallen by the wayside over the years, non-verbal language is still common.  For example, flashing headlights or high beams are used in a variety of ways for both other truckers as well as drivers in automobiles.  It’s not uncommon after passing a big rig to have the driver flash the headlights to signal the driver is clear and pull back over.  Flashing taillights is their way of saying “thank you.”  Many vehicle motorists have also picked up on this non-verbal signal when they’re thanking a trucker.

On the other hand, truckers who flash their headlights or high beams to other truckers using an oncoming lane are signaling that there is a problem ahead, such as an accident or obstruction.  This gives oncoming truckers the time needed to reduce speed and drive with caution.  Unfortunately, the downside is that flashing lights also tend to send the wrong signal, such as a driver trying to tell another not to pass.  This is where the older CBs come in handy.

Since truckers live mostly in isolation and have been the primary users of roadways throughout the US for decades, their ability to communicate verbally and non-verbally with others is important.  Although the use of CB language has changed over the years, it is still a viable form of communication for many truckers.  However, the non-verbal communication is equally important to ensuring they remain safe on the road.