Whiskey Tango Foxtrot, you don't know the phonetic alphabet yet?

Originally published at: https://boingboing.net/2018/08/02/whiskey-tango-foxtrot-you-don.html


Romeo Tango.

(Unless it’s a Charlie Foxtrot.)


Strange that it’s called the ‘phonetic alphabet’ as it doesn’t have to do much with phonetics. In my language they call it the ‘spelling alphabet’. Ah well, language is weird.


I kept a copy of that next to my phone when my job had me calling a lot of suppliers. Now I mostly just get calls from scammers and GOP fundraisers, so I find its more fun to make up my own phonetic alphabet:

Yes, my last name is Schlafly, but it’s a non standard spelling. That’s F as in “famine”, U as in “uvula” C as in “clerestory”, K as in “keratin” , and U as in “umlaut”. Did you get all that?


“‘M’ as in Mancy” – Sterling Archer


My favorites for confusion:

  • A as in Aesthetic
  • C as in Chthonic (or Cholesterol, or Ceilingl)
  • G as in Gnarled
  • H as in Honest
  • K as in Knife (or Knead)
  • M as in Mnemonic
  • P as in Pterodactyl (or Phobia, or Pneumonia, or Psychologist)
  • W as in whom (or Wreck)
  • X as in Xenophobia

Mix in more homonyms for even more fun!
Inspiration included:


Of course there have been other alphabets like this, some of which linger on in acronyms spoken in them. The show Adam 12 took its title from a phonetic alphabet that was used by police. The US Army still refers to white Phosphorous incendieary/smoke shells as “Willey Pete” from the alphabet used in WWII. “Ack Ack” is from WWI alphabet used in the UK and is an abbreviation for Anti-Aircraft.


It has to do with phonetics in having been designed to have good separability with respect to phoneme distance. For instance, hearing only the vowels and the breaks between words is enough to decode correctly.

You had me at whiskey, tango or foxtrot…more or less in that order.


I have most of the phonetic alphabet memorized already so I didn’t think I was going to be into sitting through 8 minutes of some lady slowly going through it, but Rachel’s voice is really soothing.
When she finished I realized I’d had my eyes closed for some time and felt nicely peaceful and floaty.
I’m going to plug in my headphones now and check out her channel!


I dated an air traffic controller for a couple of years and picked up the alphabet by osmosis. But us descendants of sodbusters say “Lima” like the bean, not the city.


Not only does Rachel have excellent diction, …

I thought this was in error because I had learned that diction meant word choice. I figured you had intended to use another word like articulation, elocution, or pronunciation. Before calling out this apparent irony, I looked up diction. Today I learned that diction has a second sense that means exactly these things.

Sometimes it’s useful to look up things you already (think you) know.


Yes, you could say that. Still, using this alphabet tells you nothing about how to pronounce a word. I still think ‘spelling alphabet’ is a more accurate term, and the term ‘phonetic alphabet’ is better suited for describing pronunciations.

Is ‘Phonetic Alphabet’ the general accepted term for this radio-spelling stuff? Or are the article writers/ movie makers just confused about the exact terminology?


Some of the words have a standard pronunciation for international radio use that’s a little different than normal English:

C = SHAR lee
O = OSS cah (note no ‘r’ sound at the end)
P = pa PAH
Q = ke BECK (never “kwe BECK”)
U = OO neh form (or YOU ne form)
V = VICK tah (again, no ‘r’ at the end)


In the Way Back Machine when I first arrived at Military Academy this was drilled into our heads, then you were assigned a call-name for it’s supposed use etc., and yes you guessed it, mine was Papa Alpha Papa Alpha Sierra Alpha November, Papasan…

That concludes our early morning history lesson! Have a great day fellow mutants!


I have this taped to my phone, ever since we outsourced our operational support to India. It comes in very handy!

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Oooh, does that Foxtrot lead to… a certain type of Golf? :joy:

This is the only term I’ve ever heard for it.
Prior to this thread I think I may have heard the term “Spelling Alphabet” once before, if ever.

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I used to know all of this one:

  • A for 'orses
  • E for brick
  • F for vesence
  • L for leather
  • O for the wings of a dove
  • R for mo
  • T for two
  • U for mism
  • X for breakfast