spelling out

Spelling alphabet

A spelling alphabet, radio alphabet, or telephone alphabet is a set of words which are used to stand for the letters of an alphabet. Each word in the spelling alphabet typically replaces the name of the letter with which it starts (acrophony). It is used to spell out words when speaking to someone not able to see the speaker, meaning there are no visual cues which assist the listener (the McGurk effect). Giving one's name over the telephone is a common scenario where a spelling alphabet is often used. Spelling alphabets are often called phonetic alphabets. However, phonetic transcription systems such as the International Phonetic Alphabet are designed to record detailed information about the sounds of human speech. As written representations of spoken sounds, they are utterly different from spelling alphabets, which are spoken representations of written symbols.

Voice procedure

Spelling alphabets are especially useful when speaking in a noisy environment when clarity and promptness of communication is essential, for example during two-way radio communication between an aircraft pilot and air traffic control, or in military operations. Whereas the names of many letters sound alike, the set of replacement words can be selected to be as distinct from each other as possible, to minimise the likelihood of ambiguity or mistaking one letter for another. For example, if a burst of static cuts off the start of an English-language utterance of the letter J, it may be mistaken for A or K. In the international radiotelephony spelling alphabet (or NATO phonetic alphabet), the sequence J-A-K would be pronounced Juliett-Alpha-Kilo. Some voice procedure standards require numbers to be spelled out digit by digit; some spelling alphabets replace confusable digit names with more distinct alternatives: for example, the NATO alphabet has "niner" for 9 to distinguish it better from 5 and the German word "nein".


On the Western Front of the First World War British Army signallers developed "signalese", a way of spelling out over the landlines in use to communicate. This gave rise to phrases such as "Ack-Ack" from AA for anti-aircraft. Pip-emma for pm.


The following examples are from various languages and time periods:
Letter NATO & Aviation British Forces 1952 RAF 1942-43 NY Police French German Italian Spanish Swedish
A Alpha Abel Apple Adam Anatole Anton Ancona Antonio Adam
Ä - - - - - Ärger - - Ärlig
B Bravo Baker Beer Boy Berthe Berta Bologna Barcelona Bertil
C Charlie Charlie Charlie Charlie Célestin Cäsar Como Carmen Ceasar
Ch - - - - - Charlotte - Chocolate -
D Delta Dog Dog David Désiré Dora Domodossola Dolores David
E Echo Easy Edward Edward Eugène Emil Empoli Enrique Erik
F Foxtrot Fox Freddy Frank François Friedrich Firenze Francia Fredrik
G Golf George George George Gaston Gustav Genova Gerona Gustav
H Hotel How Harry Harry Henri Heinrich Hotel Historia Helge
I India Item In Ida Irma Ida Imola Inés Ivar
J Juliet Jig Jug / Johnny John Joseph Julius I lunga José Johan
K Kilo King King King Kléber Kaufmann Kilo Kilo Kalle
L Lima Love Love Larry Louis Ludwig Livorno Lorenzo Ludvig
Ll - - - - - - - Llobregat -
M Mike Mike Mother Mary Marcel Martha Milano Madrid Martin
N November Nan Nuts Nora Nicolas Nordpol Napoli Navarra Niklas
Ñ - - - - - - - Ñoño -
O Oscar Oboe Orange Ocean Oscar Otto Otranto Oviedo Olof
Ö - - - - - Ökonom - - Östen
P Papa Peter Peter Peter Pierre Paula Padova París Petter
Q Quebec Queen Queen Queen Quintal Quelle Quarto Querido Quintus
R Romeo Roger Roger / Robert Robert Raoul Richard Roma Ramón Rudolf
S Sierra Sugar Sugar Sam Suzanne Samuel Savona Sábado Sigurd
Sch - - - - - Schule - - -
ß - - - - - Eszett - - -
T Tango Tare Tommy Tom Thérèse Theodor Torino Tarragona Tore
U Uniform Uncle Uncle Union Ursule Ulrich Udine Ulises Urban
Ü - - - - - Übermut - - Übel
V Victor Victor Vic Victor Victor Viktor Venezia Valencia Viktor
W Whiskey William William William William Wilhelm Washington Washington Wilhelm
X X-ray X-ray X-ray X-ray Xavier Xanthippe Ics Xiquena Xerxes
Y Yankee Yoke Yoke / Yorker Young Yvonne Ypsilon York Yeguna Yngve
Z Zulu Zebra Zebra Zebra Zoé Zeppelin Zara Zaragoza Zäta


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