Definitions

ack-emma

RAF phonetic alphabet

The RAF phonetic alphabet is not a phonetic alphabet in the sense in which that term is used in phonetics, i.e., it is not a system for transcribing speech sounds. See the phonetic alphabet disambiguation page, and also phonetic notation.

Following the take up of radio, the British Royal Air Force (RAF) used a succession of radiotelephony spelling alphabets to aid communication. These have now all been superseded by the NATO phonetic alphabet.

They would be used in phrases to emphasize the aircraft identification, eg "H-Harry", "G for George". This letter was not the aircraft's serial number painted on the tail (two letters followed by three digits as in a motorcar license plate of the time) but was painted on the side of the aircraft in large letters following the two-letter squadron designation code and the RAF roundel. This worked because no squadron had more than 26 aircraft.

The first alphabet owes a lot to World War I Western Front "signalese" - the phoenetic spelling used by signallers. Only Ack, Gee Emma and Esses changed. Possibly these were lost because they were already in use in phrases such as Ack-Ack: AA, anti-aircraft (fire) and "ack emma", "pip emma" for AM and PM. The Royal Navy of World War I differed more from the later alphabet having Apples, Butter, Duff, Pudding, Queenie, Tommy, Vinegar, Willie, Xerxes and Yellow.

Alphabets

1924–1942 1942–1943 1943–1956
Ace
Beer
Charlie
Don
Edward
Freddie
George
Harry
Ink
Johnnie
King
London
Monkey
Nuts 1
Orange
Pip
Queen
Robert
Sugar
Toc
Uncle
Vic 2
William
X-ray
Yorker
Zebra

Apple
Beer
Charlie
Dog
Edward
Freddy
George
Harry
In
Jug/Johnny
King
Love
Mother
Nuts
Orange
Peter
Queen
Roger/Robert
Sugar
Tommy
Uncle
Vic
William
X-ray
Yoke/Yorker
Zebra

Able/Affirm
Baker
Charlie
Dog
Easy
Fox
George
How
Item/Interrogatory
Jig/Johnny
King
Love
Mike
Nab/Negat
Oboe
Peter/Prep
Queen
Roger
Sugar
Tare
Uncle
Victor
William
X-ray
Yoke
Zebra

  • 1 The choice of Nuts following Monkey is probably from "monkey nuts" = peanuts.
  • 2 "Vic" subsequently entered the English language as the standard (Vee-shaped) flight pattern of three aircraft.

1956–present

In 1956 the NATO phonetic alphabet was adopted.

See also

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