View Full Version : "Burner" Cell phones in 2002

06-13-2011, 11:23 PM
How would my character refer to a pre-paid cell phone in 2002? She's not a criminal, but she's a former (a decade earlier) cop who has worked with CIA and other government agencies. She's using the phones to keep in contact with her elderly mother because she is supposedly dead, but is actually in hiding with a new identity.

Would she call the phones disposable? Pre-paid? By the brand name? Does the term burner date back that far? If it does, would she be likely to use it, since she's actually one of the "good-guys" rather than a criminal?


Chris P
06-13-2011, 11:32 PM
I'm not familiar with the term "burner" phone at all. I remember a lot of people using the brand name "TracFone" as a word about that time. "Prepaid cellular" might have been used, but I don't remember. I was still using pre-paid calling cards and public phone booths back then.

06-14-2011, 12:14 AM
The "burner" slang apparently came from some movie, so I'm guessing it doesn't date back that far. TracFone was my first thought, since I had one of those for awhile back around that time frame, I just didn't know if there was a better term for my character to use.

The Grift
06-14-2011, 12:47 AM
The term burner used for a cell phone dates back to at least 2004, because they were using it on The Wire at that point. I don't know when the phrase originated, but it had to have been sometime before that. The Wire was pretty well-known for accurately reflecting the Baltimore drug culture, including the lexicon, not inventing it.

Remember that "burner" also used to (still does?) refer to a handgun.

Drachen Jager
06-14-2011, 12:47 AM
Using Google and a specific date range (2000-2002) I find "burn phone" comes up occasionally in the criminal context, so it was in use at the time.

06-14-2011, 04:01 PM
I've always had a prepay phone, most people did before mobile calls got cheap. You just top it up at the shop when you go.

The thing is, when I bought my first phone (about 15 years ago) I still had to give details - names, address etc. Not sure if this is still the case though.

Also, when I worked in retail, if someone bought a mobile phone that was capable of recieving internet then they had to fill in a TV licence form - law here says you have to have a licence for any computer, phone or tv cabable of streaming tv or radio

06-14-2011, 07:47 PM
I had a prepaid phone in 2002-3. It was a Trac-Phone (brand name.) I never heard the term burner except watching reruns of Law and Order. I always referred to my phone as...my phone or my mobile phone (first they were called car phones, then mobile, then cell.) I didn't qualify it unless someone asked and then I explained that I didn't use the phone enough to justify the monthly expense (until I figured out I was paying more with all the unused minutes that would expire since I was afraid to use them.) I was paying almost 60 cents a minute before I figured out getting a plan would be cheaper. :D

06-15-2011, 12:48 AM
Thanks, folks - it appears that my initial thoughts were correct that the "burner" term is mostly criminals/in a criminal context.

FYI - Shaldna mentioned having to fill out forms for a phone. My own research indicates that some countries require this - the US does not. Thanks again all!