Mastering language of '10 code'

Numbers replace words in complicated chatter that comes from scanner

Posted: Sunday, July 15, 2001

I read somewhere that people who are dyslexic have an easier time learning a foreign language because English is so difficult.

As someone who sits at a desk all day proofreading copy, I definitely can attest to English being a tough language. Even with my trusty stylebooks at my side, I frequently have to ask the managing editor for his expertise when it comes to words.

Let's face it, English is just an overwhelming language to comprehend. There are words and phrases that have me so baffled I will go out of my way to not use them. Sometimes I create clever little sayings to help me remember usage.

For example, take spay and neuter. I could never remember which was which until I got a female dog. I deduced that spay starts with an "S," then put a couple of lines through it and made a dollar sign. There you have it: it costs more to spay a female than neuter a male.

OK, so it's a stretch. But it works for me, so that's all that matters.

However, when it comes to lie and lay, I stumble; when it comes to affect and effect, forget it.

As for foreign languages, I wasn't all that great in Spanish class. In fact, I was a little miffed that I had to use "Dorotea," or Dorothy, as my name. In junior high, that was not cool in any way, shape or form.

By the time I reached high school, I advanced to the language of love: I signed up for a French class. I was going to be suave, debonair, chic.

What happened was I learned, "Avez vous un ami de la class de Francais?"

To which my classmates responded, "Oui."

Somehow, I never envisioned, "Do you have a friend in the French class?" as being all that romantic. But I was a teen-ager, what did I know?

As an adult living in Alaska, I've often thought about learning Russian. What a wonderfully rich language that is.

Instead, I have learned a language that is probably useless to any other occupation for which I might be suited.

Day after day, I sit in my corner, ears tuned into a little box that keeps me company no matter what time I'm at work. It's called a scanner.

Yes, I am, by far, the most advanced speaker of "10 codes" in the newsroom.

Ten codes are a system that was developed by law enforcement to shorten conversation between dispatchers and officers. Instead of saying "I'm going home for lunch," officers convey they are "10-81 at home."

Initially, I learned the important ones -- fires, car accidents and the ever-popular 10-32 (man with a gun). OK, I've only heard that one maybe twice, but as a newshound, I'm always listening for a possible story.

Over the years, more of the codes have sunk in.

"10-36 a white Chevy pickup -- delta, tango, Lima 464. Can I get a 10-27, 10-28?"

"What's that?" someone will ask me.

"Oh, just a traffic stop. They want to check the license and registration."

Learning the "delta, tango, Lima" part is another story.

To avoid any confusion when calling in license plate numbers, the alphabet system was installed. I still have the list I started when I began at the Clarion. I didn't want to just call and say "Hey, what's every letter stand for?" No, I wanted to do it the hard way.

I made a list and each time a plate was radioed in, I filled in the missing blanks.

Problem was, "Q" is not a very popular letter around here. I've worked here five years, but it wasn't until this spring that a person with a personalized plate had the courtesy to go a bit over the speed limit to end my agony in filling in that last open space.

I was giddy with delight and shared my joy with each person in the newsroom, who promptly replied, "Leave me alone, I'm on deadline."

Who would have thought Quebec would hold such meaning in my life?

As for the 10 codes, I rarely have to look at the list on my wall anymore.

When my husband, Mark, became a firefighter, part of his job was to learn some of the codes. Who better than me to quiz him?

After a while, it made for interesting dinner conversation.

"Hey, did you hear about that 10-50 India (accident with injuries) near Mile 69? They had to call in three 10-51s (wreckers)!"

"I know. When they were 10-23 (on scene) they thought the guy who caused it was 10-55 (intoxicated), but then he went 10-96 (mental). It was a mess. They had to do a 10-69 (officer needs help)."

I figure the next logical step in my life is be to become a dispatcher -- except that you have to be able to type faster than a speeding bullet, not to mention remain calm in an emergency.

No can do. I get flustered with every call that comes across the scanner. I'm on the phone to editors crying "Wolf, wolf!"

"Hey, there are three little kids with guns pointing them at passing cars near Kmart!"

Five minutes later I'm back on the phone.

"Oh, uh, never mind. They were pointing their fingers at the eagle flying overhead."

Oh well. I'm probably better suited for sitting in the corner just listening to the scanner.

Speaking of which, I better 10-24 (complete my assignment) so I can get 10-8 (back in service) before the editors 10-23 (arrive on scene) and find I'm not that 10-6 (busy).

It's a tough life, but somebody has to translate it. That's a 10-4, good buddies!

Dori Lynn Anderson is the features and copy editor for the Peninsula Clarion.

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