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The phonetic language - also known as the 'spelling alphabet' or the NATO phonetic alphabet - is used by professional communicators, especially police, military and other emergency and armed forces, to identify letters precisely, either when communicating initials, abbreviations or spellings of words.

The NATO phonetic spelling alphabet is a useful reference for language and communications study and training.

Different variations of the phonetic language exist - this is the original major standard and still most widely used.

The phonetic alphabet used for confirming spelling and words is quite different and far more complicated to the phonetic alphabet used to confirm pronunciation and word sounds , used by used by linguists, speech therapists, and language teachers, etc.

Commonly when used professionally in relaying abbreviations or letter codes, such as registrations, for example by the police, military, other emergency services or in air traffic control, the letters themselves are not given and only the corresponding words are stated, for example a registration or call-sign of GTW would be stated at simply as 'Golf Tango Whisky'.

In less formal use, for example by customer service telephone staff, communications tend to give the letters and to clarify each with the corresponding alphabet words, for example, 'G, Golf; T, Tango; W, Whisky', or alternatively, 'GTW, Golf Tango Whisky.'

Phonetic Spelling Alphabet

Used by communicators around the world to clarify letters and spellings.

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

I repeat that other versions of phonetic spelling alphabets exist. The NATO alphabet above is the original and most widely used.

It was originally developed by the International Civil Aviation Organization and subsequently adopted by NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organisation) among other significant global and national bodies covering telecommunications, maritime, and aviation.

Cockney alphabet

For amusement only. Not used by any important global standards organisations.

And certainly not recommended for use in confirming spellings, letters or words - it only confuses people.

Again there are different versions of this. Its origins are uncertain, most probably evolving organically in Cockney London in the late 1800s or early 1900s.

The alphabet is based on a child-like alphabet (A for Apple, etc), replacing the correct words to form puns. Typically the alphabet would be spoken or written with dropped first-letters wherever appropriate, as in 'ay for 'orses.

  • A for horses (hay for horses)
  • B for mutton (beef or mutton)
  • C for miles (see for miles, although 'Seaforth Highlanders', an old Sottish regiment, was an early popular alternative)
  • D for dumb (deaf or dumb - ironically a correct word for the letter D)
  • E for brick (heave a brick)
  • F for vescence (effervescence)
  • G for police (chief of police)
  • H for retirement (age for retirement)
  • I for an eye (eye for an eye)
  • J for oranges (Jaffa oranges)
  • K for restaurant (cafe or restaurant)
  • L for leather (hell for leather)
  • M for sis (emphasis)
  • N for lope (envelope)
  • O for the wings of a dove (a song)
  • P for relief (pee - urinate - for relief)
  • Q for a bus (queue for a bus)
  • R for bitter (half a bitter - beer)
  • S for you (as for you)
  • T for two (tea for two)
  • U for me (you for me)
  • V for la France (Vive la France)
  • W for a quid (double you a quid - a pound - a gambling term)
  • X for breakfast (eggs for breakfast)
  • Y for husband (wife or husband)
  • Z for breezes (zephyr breezes)

As I say, there are various versions of this.

Here are some variations:

  • C for Th' Highlanders (Seaforth Highlanders - an early Scottish military regiment)
  • D for mation (defamation)
  • I for a beautiful girl (eye for a beautiful girl)
  • M for plums (Emva plums)
  • N for mation (information)
  • P for a penny (pee for a penny)
  • Q for a pee (queue for a pee [to urinate])
  • R for mo (half a mo')
  • R for Askey (Arthur Askey, 1900-1982, popular diminutive bespectacled chirpy-chappy English comedian/actor/variety performer)
  • S for Costello (Esther Costello - a 1957 film)
  • S for Rantzen (Esther Rantzen, English TV presenter/journalist and chief founder/pioneer of the now globally replicated Childline charitable organization for young people)
  • Z for the sake of effect (said for the sake of effect)

If you have other memories (thanks M Baker and R Eve for above variations) - pre-1960s or more recent - please send them .

See also