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NATO phonetic alphabet

The NATO phonetic alphabet was developed in the 1950s by the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) to be intelligible (and pronounceable) to all pilots and operators of civil aircraft. It replaced other phonetic alphabets, for example the US military Joint Army/Navy Phonetic Alphabet ("able baker") and several versions of RAF phonetic alphabets. It is sometimes inappropriately referred to as International Phonetic Alphabet, which is actually the official name of an alphabet used in linguistics created in the late nineteeth century.

It was adopted with minor modification by North Atlantic Treaty Organization. The NATO phonetic alphabet is now widely used in business and telecommunications in Europe and North America. It has been adopted by the International Telegraphers Union (ITU), after which it is named by many radio operators. Although it consists of English words, its letter codewords can easily be recognised by speakers of languages other than English.

The alphabet is used to spell out parts of a message or call sign that are critical or otherwise hard to recognize during voice communication. For instance the message "proceed to map grid DH98" could be transmitted as "proceed to map grid Delta-Hotel-Niner-Eight" and a C-130 Hercules plane directly ahead might be described as a "Charlie One Thirty in your twelve o'clock".

The NATO phonetic alphabet is as follows:

Letter Phonetic Letter Phonetic Letter Phonetic
A Alpha M Mike Y Yankee
B Bravo N November Z Zulu
C Charlie O Oscar 0 Zero
D Delta P Papa 1 One
E Echo Q Quebec 2 Two
F Foxtrot R Romeo 3 Tree
G Golf S Sierra 4 Fower
H Hotel T Tango 5 Fife
I India U Uniform 6 Six
J Juliet V Victor 7 Seven
K Kilo W Whiskey 8 Eight
L Lima X X-ray 9 Niner

The spelling of some of these words varies in different published versions of the alphabet. In particular Alpha may be written as Alfa and Juliet as Juliett. Since the alphabet is intended for oral use, this is not usually an issue. The pronunciation is intended to be identical in each case. Note that the letter Lima is pronounced "leema," not "laima."

Several letter codes and abbreviations using the phonetic alphabet have become well-known, such as Bravo Zulu (letter code BZ) for "well done", Sierra Hotel (SH from "shit hot") for "extremely capable" and Checkpoint Charlie (Checkpoint C). Sometimes they are used as euphemism, e.g. Charlie-Foxtrot for "cluster fuck" (a confused situation or "jam"), Tango-Uniform for "tits-up", used to express a dire situation, or Whiskey-Tango-Foxtrot as a euphemism for "WTF".

From Federal Standard 1037C and from the Department of Defense Dictionary of Military and Associated Terms

Table of contents
1 Older phonetic alphabets

Older phonetic alphabets

In addition to the RAF and US Army/Navy alphabets referred to above, numerous other phonetic alphabets have been used in the past.

British Royal Navy during World War I

Apples Butter Charlie Duff Edward Freddy George Harry Ink Johnny King London Monkey Nuts Orange Pudding Queenie Robert Sugar Tommy Uncle Vinegar Willie Xerxes Yellow Zebra

World War I trench slang

Ack Beer Charlie Don Edward Freddie Gee Harry Ink Johnnie King London Emma Nuts Oranges Pip Queen Robert Esses Toc Uncle Vic William X-ray Yorker Zebra

This appears to be the origin of the RAF slang phrases such as ack emma for morning, pip emma for afternoon and ack-ack for anti-aircraft.

Ack Emma also used for 'Air Mechanic' - Royal Flying Corps 1914-18

See also: biometric word list