International Radiotelephony Spelling Alphabet

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.

Snellen Chart
Snellen Chart

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. :)

FAA radiotelephony phonetic alphabet and Morse code chart
FAA radiotelephony phonetic alphabet and Morse code chart

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).

6 Replies to “International Radiotelephony Spelling Alphabet”

  1. I learned the International Radiotelephony Phonetic Alphabet years ago when I took a flying course. I later used it when I was dealing with part numbers at an airplane fastener company, and have used it ever since. Everyone should know this alphabet and use it! It is error-proof and much better than the ineffective and confusing way most people try to convey letters.

  2. Excellent comment, Kirsten. It’s good to be “in a relationship” with such a smart chick. :)

  3. Can anyone explain why in the world people who have a telephone job are not required to use this? I didn’t even say memorize…they may print a cheat sheet! AAAa Frustrating.

    My last name is unusual, and I was spelling with the radio telephony alphabet in an effort to make it more clear and she was still puzzled. And said, “I wasn’t sure if sierra was with a c or an s”.

    1. Your comment made me smile, Chrissy. It’s so frustrating when things are unclear and I switch to phonetic, that that is even less clear to the person on the other end. Then there’s this awkward, “D as in dog. A as in apple. N as in Nancy…” It’s so unnecessary. I could simply rattle, “Delta, alpha, november…”

      Students in high school should be required to learn the phonetic alphabet. And the metric system. And twenty-four hour time. We’ll start with those. :)

  4. Every child should learn this simple alphabet in elementary school.
    To that end I created an app for it. :) Yeah there are lots of them but mine gets the user to SPEAK it!. It’s free, no ads. I would really appreciate a comment!

    1. That’s fun. Too bad it’s not iOS. :)

      My kids learned the alphabet in less than an hour without an app. Just memorize the words then start spelling everything with them.

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