On the internet, I found the terms "two-way radio" and just "radio", but the first sounds a bit too technical, and the second might be mistaken for the radio used to listen to music, mightn't it?

So, to make a couple of examples:

The police officer took out his ... and called for backup.

The police officer reported the scene on ...

  • took out his radio is becoming something of an anachronism. google.com/… Jul 8 '18 at 15:25
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    Do you mean a body-worn or handheld radio (varies by police force and country), or the one in the police car, or all of these?
    – smci
    Jul 9 '18 at 1:15
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    Your first sentence could be replaced with "The police radioed for backup". (see definition 3) Jul 9 '18 at 13:40
  • FWIW, the Wikipedia article is at police radio, though the police officer took out his police radio… does not sound very elegant.
    – choster
    Jul 9 '18 at 14:59

You're right that "two-way radio" sounds too technical and specific. That over-specificity is superfluous in your two examples for a single reason:

We know what type of radio the officer is using because of how they interact with it.

In Examples 1 and 2, the officer is doing something to the radio that is only possible if the radio is a two-way radio. Because they used it to 'call for backup' (Example 1) or 'report the scene' (Example 2), the radio cannot be a music radio. People don't call for backup on a music radio.

On another note, your concern would be more appropriate if the only thing we knew was that the officer was listening to "the radio."

"The officer heard someone's voice over the radio."

That's ambiguous. The "someone's voice" here could be that of a fellow officer (on a two-way radio), or it could be that of a disc jockey (on a music radio).

In this new example, using "two-way radio" would be appropriate because it would address the ambiguity.

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    In the latter case, the noun radio can actually be omitted, and it might well be rendered just as "The officer heard a voice over the two-way." Jul 8 '18 at 18:25
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    This answer does a good job of touching on the awkwardness of including "two-way". I think that in the cases where just saying "the radio" would be ambiguous, it could be clarified by specifying that it's a "police radio".
    – V2Blast
    Jul 9 '18 at 2:06
  • Just because it's not a music radio doesn't mean it's inherently a two-way radio. One-way radios used for communication are exceedingly rare, but they do exist.
    – Flater
    Jul 9 '18 at 14:05

You could just say walkie-talkie. Walkie-talkie is really just a more daily-English term for the type of device that you're talking about:

A walkie-talkie (more formally known as a handheld transceiver, or HT) is a hand-held, portable, two-way radio transceiver. Its development during the Second World War has been variously credited to Donald L. Hings, radio engineer Alfred J. Gross, and engineering teams at Motorola.

Your first example:

The police officer pulled out his walkie-talkie and called for backup.

  • 3
    It's just a single data point, but: As an (American) layman, I'd personally think to use "walkie-talkie" before "two-way radio". Jul 8 '18 at 19:30
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    As another data point, I agree with Wikipedia in their description a little further down than your quote: "walkie-talkie" [is] often used as a layman's term or specifically to refer to a toy. Public safety and commercial users generally refer to their handhelds simply as "radios". Jul 8 '18 at 21:14
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    @SethR - I tend to agree with you. When I hear the term "walkie-talkie," I generally think of devices that are designed only to be used at short range – not much bigger than a modest-sized campus.
    – J.R.
    Jul 8 '18 at 21:37
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    I'd also say the Wikipedia article is poorly named. Kids toys caused the use of the term "walkie-talkie" to refer to a handheld transceiver. Technically a "walkie-talkie" is a manpack (i.e. backpack) radio. A handheld transceiver is a "handie-talkie". This distinction is maintained by those in amateur radio and many in two-way radio.
    – user71659
    Jul 9 '18 at 2:18
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    "Walkie-talkie" seems like the better term for such a device in a general context, where "radio" seems more like context-specific jargon since it's pretty vague (lots of devices qualify as radios) but quick-and-easy to say.
    – Nat
    Jul 9 '18 at 5:10

In both your examples, you can simply say "radio":

The police officer took out his radio and called for backup.

The police officer reported the scene by radio.

It's clear from the context that this is a radio for transmitting as well as receiving, and we will assume that you mean the officer's service-issue radio (unless you've previously given us any information that indicates otherwise).

I'm a rescue volunteer and occasional mariner, and in those roles, would always assume "radio" to mean a 2-way VHF set - even though at home, or in the car, "radio" would always mean a broadcast receiver.


"Communicator" could be used, or "[police] radio" or "two-way radio". I wouldn't recommend "walkie-talkie" (or its video counterpart, "creepie-peepie--I'm not kidding: this was an early-1950s word for a portable TV transmitter). Perhaps you could ask a policeman what he calls his communication device.

  • Welcome to ELL. You say "Communicator could be used" — but by whom? So far as I can tell, communicator isn't used for a police radio in any of the major English-speaking countries. I think most people would assume it is a term from science fiction, especially the one from Star Trek, except perhaps those of us traumatized by having to code for the Netscape product of the same name.
    – choster
    Jul 9 '18 at 14:55

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