Over and Out: Another Odd Movie Trope

I have written before about movie tropes such as the the tell-tale cough of death and the bullet that throws a 200 pound adult across a room. I was reminded of another today while playing with hand held walkie-talkies.

The little boy on the other end says “Over and out!” after each transmission. He’s seen it on TV and movies a thousand times. Soldiers do it. Pilots do it. Secret agents do it.

But no one in real life does.

“Over” means that you have finished your message and are expecting a response. “Out” means you have finished your message and are ending the conversation. “Over and out” is thus an oxymoron.

A gold star to anyone who can identify the first film to use “over and out”. I know it goes back at least 50 years, but surely has an older history.

Author: Keith Humphreys

Keith Humphreys is the Esther Ting Memorial Professor of Psychiatry at Stanford University and an Honorary Professor of Psychiatry at Kings College London. His research, teaching and writing have focused on addictive disorders, self-help organizations (e.g., breast cancer support groups, Alcoholics Anonymous), evaluation research methods, and public policy related to health care, mental illness, veterans, drugs, crime and correctional systems. Professor Humphreys' over 300 scholarly articles, monographs and books have been cited over thirteen thousand times by scientific colleagues. He is a regular contributor to Washington Post and has also written for the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Washington Monthly, San Francisco Chronicle, The Guardian (UK), The Telegraph (UK), Times Higher Education (UK), Crossbow (UK) and other media outlets.

20 thoughts on “Over and Out: Another Odd Movie Trope”

  1. I’m sure many people will point this out, but let me be the first. Over means the message is finished. In a radio conversation, it means that the other side is free to broadcast. Out means the conversation is over. It means the other side needn’t bother broadcasting because you have finished the conversation. They are definitely NOT redundant and both are needed in a half-duplex medium whether it be radio or ethernet.

    1. “Over and out” == “I’m done sending for now and I’m done for the foreseeable future.”

      “Out” == “I’m done sending for the foreseeable future.”

      Both are necessary, but “over” is unnecessary when “out” is used and meant.

      Dennis, out.

      1. I think generally, “out” does not mean “I’m done sending.” Rather, I think it means “I’m done receiving.” Which means it is not redundant with “over;” it is complementary.

        Consider marine VHF radio communications. There is a hailing and emergency channel (VHF 16), monitored by all, on which one operator hails another. They agree to switch to a working channel, where they conduct their conversation, then they both acknowledge completion of the conversation and return to monitoring the hailing channel. A real-life example (with lines numbered for reference):

        (1) RR (me): Marina Shores, Marina Shores, this is Ramblin’ Rhodes on 16. Over.
        (2) MS (the marina): Ramblin’ Rhodes, this is Marina Shores. Please switch and answer on Channel 68.
        (3) RR: Affirmative, Marina Shores. Ramblin’ Rhodes, switching to Channel 68.
        …short pause…
        (4) RR: Marina Shores, this is Ramblin’ Rhodes on 68. Over.
        (5) MS: Ramblin’ Rhodes, this is Marina Shores. Go ahead.
        (6) RR: Buddy, this is Ken. I’m inbound in the lower Chesapeake, about 30 minutes outside the inlet. Could you check my slip, Foxtrot 4, to make sure any transients are out by the time I arrive? Over.
        (7) MS: Sure Ken, I’ll have one of the hands go down and check right away. Will you be needing fuel before you go into your slip? Over.
        (8) RR: No thanks, Buddy, I still have plenty in the tanks. All I need is an empty bed to sleep in. Over. This is Ramblin’ Rhodes, out on 68, back to 16.
        (9) MS: This is Marina Shores, out on 68, monitoring 16.

        Notes: Lines 1-5 constitute a standard beginning to a conversation. Line 1 needs an “over” because Channel 16 is for emergencies as well as hailing, so the hailing line is not assumed to be complete until so stated. Lines 2 and 3 are in a specific format that does not include any further follow-on, so “over” is not required. In line 5, the “go ahead” is a synonym for “over.”

        Lines 6-8 contain the substance of the conversation. Each is terminated with an “over,” saying “my transmission is finished.” Line 8 contains a follow-up, which says “my listening is also finished.” And in line 9, the marina does the same.

        My “Ramblin’ Rhodes, out on Channel 68 and returning to Channel 16” tells you that I will no longer *receive* your transmission on 68.

    2. Morse has K — ‘go ahead’ — and SK — ‘end of contact’.

      You’d never hear them in the same transmission.

    3. A nice theory, but ufortunately contradicted by US Army radio protocol, in which I involutarily became expert in the early 70s. Keith Humphreys is correct.

  2. It may be so and you can always make a rule that end of conversation implies end of transmission, but most protocols I am aware of have separate ways of doing that and generally do not combine them. Some would consider it an error handling case if they got an out without an over.

  3. You also have to think of how noisy the medium is before you go making assumptions about things. “over and out” is more explicit than just an “out” (and longer); that might be important in the context of a noisy channel.

    1. This was certainly my thought – that “out”, terminating the conversation, is too important to be trusted to a monosyllable and so is tacked onto “over”, This would make sense to me as a way to communicate. But I’m just saying it would make sense to me; I have no actual training. I have spent a lot of time listening to and occasionally using a civilian marine VHF, where the conventions seemed to be “over” and “signing off” or “standing by (channel)”, with “out” rarely if ever used. But there was no training required to use a civilian marine VHF, and in any case there are a lot of other communities using radios.

  4. Keith,

    I agree that it may be a redundancy – but my understanding of oxymoron is that two opposing concepts are strung together – e.g. ‘My father’s disapproval was silent thunder (whenever)…’
    Redundancy doesn’t really fit that.

    1. Brad — I actually never used the word redundant, the first commenter strongly refuted a claim of redundancy that no one had made and may have thereby sent the thread down a rabbit hole. I was noting the fact that its oxymoronic, i.e. a figure of speech combining two contradictory terms, namely “I expect an answer” and “I don’t expect an answer”. Maybe I should have just said contradictory, but that’s blogging for you.

  5. I first saw it on the mid-50s TV cop show Highway Patrol, usually as part of “Ten-four. Over and out.”

  6. With the horrendous audio quality and essentially half-duplex nature of modern digital cell phones i’ve found it necessary to bring these 3-part communication protocols back into everyday use.


  7. I think what you mean is “contradiction in terms.”” A contradiction in terms is an error. An oxymoron is a figure of speech – that is, the juxtaposition of opposites is intentional.

  8. When I was a weatherman in the USAF, I supported the army in W Germany. They had a curious replacement for ‘goodbye’ on the phone too: ‘out here’. It leaked over from the radio jargon.

  9. 25 years ago or so, the language column of an electrical engineering magazine took a look at this very same question. But they didn’t have Google Books on their side.

    For all the talk about the lossy half-duplex medium that is cheap two-way voice radio, I think we should also consider the lossy half-duplex medium that is mass entertainment. Audiences aren’t trained in protocol; they have to pick it up on the fly, and it has to be clear. If fictional characters terminated their conversations with a simple “… out” you’d lose them at a rate similar to the one Hawking used to quote for equations.

  10. No comment re over and out, but on the bullet thing, you might do some casual reading on hunting ammunition. I’m no expert, but as far as I know only fully-jacketed military rounds are intended to go through the target, and that would be so only of fairly big loads like .30-06. Hunting loads are typically partially jacketed and designed to spread out so they penetrate only to a limited depth and do what they refer to as “transfer the kinetic energy to the target,” and will usually knock over medium-sized game animals like deer without exiting. This is in part because exit wounds tend to tear up the meat too much. Smaller caliber military bullets like for the M-15, though jacketed as required, are intended to tumble and rip up the target without really exiting, a little like hunting bullets but really intended to do more tissue damage.

    Most of these movie shots are with handguns, of course, which don’t generate anything near the velocity or kinetic energy. But they’re used at much closer range and the bullets are usually soft lead or otherwise expanding (you don’t want them hitting the target and then ricocheting all over the place). So call me naive, but I don’t find it so unbelievable that somebody who’s hit at 15 feet by a .45, or a .44 magnum, might get thrown around.

    This particular scene from Day of the Jackal I don’t remember and I didn’t run your clip, but in the book, this was supposed to be a rifle using bullets that were loaded with mercury drops, supposedly super-expanding and almost explosive in effect (tested by exploding pumpkins with them? something like that). Not a bazooka, but I don’t find it completely unbelievable that absorbing the full kinetic energy right at the muzzle might move somebody. There can be a lot of energy there.

    1. Altoid — In the clip on my earlier post the assassin flies into the air and backwards as if he had been hit by a mack truck – it’s a ridiculous moment in an otherwise realistic story (And note that he wasn’s shot with the mercury bullet, the hero detective picks up the fallen Gendarme gun and shoots him with regular bullets).

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