Ever talked on the phone with someone who was trying to phonetically convey to you a confirmation code or a name and they were having trouble coming up with words to correspond with each letter? “Um…d, as in ‘dog’…um…b, as in ‘boy’…um…n, as in ‘nancy’…” It’s quite frustrating–at both ends–and entirely unnecessary. There is a much more elegant and standard solution, the International Radiotelephony Spelling Alphabet.
Every child should learn this simple alphabet in elementary school. It would take any person of average intelligence an hour to memorize and would make those times when we must verbally spell words much less troublesome. I memorized this code long before I joined the US Air Force. Every young airman is required to learn this code. I am also a private pilot and am required to know and use the code when talking on the radio during flight.
Today at my appointment with the optometrist I read the eye chart using the phonetic alphabet. They asked, “Were you in the military?” and said, “It seems like we’re in World War II.” It’s unfortunate that they are not used to hearing patients use this simple code. It is far superior to the muddled alternative.
Line 8 on the Snellen chart above is probably usually read as, “D as in dog, E as in egg, F as in firefly, P as in …”. Or even worse, “D, E, F, P…” “For the first letter did you say ‘D’ or ‘B’?” Phonetically it would simply be, “Delta, echo, foxtrot, papa, …” Much simpler and unambiguous.
Learn this code. Use it. Then we’ll work on switching to the metric system, twenty-four hour time format, writing the date with decreasing specificity, and switching from Fahrenheit to Celsius. I’m not holding my breath. :)
The Phonetic Alphabet according to Google – 2015
The NATO Phonetic Alphabet isn’t the only one, of course. A reader sent me this link, which is interesting and fun (but not very useful practically).