NATO Alphabet   Leave a comment

I spell out a lot of things on the phone. Not a day goes by where I have to walk through something letter by letter. Why?

  • I have a Cajun last name, which looks nothing like how it is spelled.
  • I’m in Information Technology, so a lot of things (such as commands and server names) have to be communicated over the phone.
  • I’m often in a data center. This means I’m often in a loud room that actively hates cell phione connections.
  • My industry in general (and my compnay in particular) are global, so I can’t always assume everyone links spelling and pronuciation the same way I will.

I know a lot of people who invent something on the fly: “‘b’ as in ‘boy,’ ‘a’ as in ‘apple’…” It’s not my default, however. Sometime in grade school, when I was obsessed with getting a pilot’s license, I learned the “standard” phonetic alphabet suggested in the FAR/AIM. I’ve later learned it was originally developed for NATO. It looks something like this:

Letter Phonetic Word Letter Phonetic Word
A Alfa N November
B Bravo O Oscar
C Charly P Papa
D Delta Q Quebec
E Echo R Romeo
F Foxtrot S Sierra
G Golf T Tango
H Hotel U Uniform
I India V Victor
J Juliet W Whiskey
K Kilo X X-Ray
L Lima Y Yankee
M Mike Z Zulu

I regard this as superior to an on-the-fly invention for two reasons. First, the alphabet was designed for a multi-national organization for use by speakers of a variety of languages (and a variety of accents) on radios during sub-optimal (i.e. combat) situations. During development, it was tested with speakers of thirty-one different languages, on a variety of equipment. No word is likely to be used in a different context during their operation (such as “pen” for “p”), and, in my experience, few situations where you’d be reading off the letters. In short: it was designed for this use. It’s unlikely the word selected would be mistaken for representing another letter, even among bad cell phones, loud background noise, or a variety of accents.

The other reason I prefer it is because it is fairly ubiquitous. Not infrequently, I hear the same alphabet being given back to me. I think that, if I get another person familiar with this alphabet, we’re going to be able to communicate this more successfully–they don’t have to do the extra “processing” to figure out what was meant. A person unfamiliar with it is no worse off than with something invented on the fly.

I think it’s definitely worth learning this alphabet as a standard for trying to spell things out over the phone.

This may be the first in a series of things which I regard as “handy things to know.”

Posted 2013-10-11 by Mr. Guilt in Handy Things to Know

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