The Military Alphabet: What it is and How it Works

It could mean a matter of life and death; one bad pronunciation could send friendly fire upon soldiers, or lead a platoon into an ambush. All communication within the military must be easily understood. And, I do not just speak about the United States military, communication between allied forces must also be clear.

Consider the many letters within the alphabet that could be misunderstood when speaking over a radio, a telephone or even face to face. This can happen even more often when a individual has an accent.

Years ago, during World War I, an alphabet was designed to help alleviate any problems of miscommunication. When a soldier or officer was in communication, they would spell key words out using the alphabet that was designed. With the British being strong allies of we Americans, communication often could still be an issue. The Brits used a different military alphabet than we did. During World War I, and lasting up until 1956 the alphabet was (with some slight changes):

      British                  Americans

A   Apples                Able and then Affirm

B   Butter                 Boy and then Baker

C   Charlie                Cast and then Charlie

D   Duff                     Dog

E   Edward               Edward and then Easy

F   Freddie               Fox

G   George               George

H   Harry                 Have, Hypo and then How

I    Ink                      Item and Interrogatory

J   Johnnie               Jig

K   King                   King

L   London              Love

Monkey            Mike

N   Nuts                 Nan and then Negative

O   Orange             Oboe and then Option

P   Pudding           Pup, Preparatory and then Peter

Q   Queenie          Quack and then Queen

R   Robert             Rush and then Roger

S    Sugar              Sail and then Sugar

T   Tommy           Tare

U   Uncle              Unit and then Uncle

V   Vinegar           Vice and then Victor

W  Willie              Watch and then William

X   Xerxes            X-Ray

Y   Yellow            Yoke

Z    Zebra             Zeb and then Zebra

When soldiers or officers from either the British Armed Forces, or the American military were communicating, there was some confusion. After all, I have enough trouble understanding Benny Hill, just think if a soldier with a British accent was spelling out bomb….Butter, Orange, Monkey, Butter.

In 1956, the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) developed a phonetic alphabet which has been adopted by almost all military forces that are allied with the United States. Tests were performed that involved over 30 different nationalities to find words that would be comprehensive to all, no matter the accent of the person using the word. Some of the words may have slight spelling changes, but overall, the sounds are the same.Many of these also correspond to signals used by flaggers. This created a system that could be used by all and understood.

The military alphabet is now used by almost all nations, NATO and other organizations, and is:

  • Alpha or Alfa

  • Bravo

  • Charlie

  • Delta

  • Echo

  • Foxtrot

  • Golf

  • Hotel

  • India

  • Juliett

  • Kilo

  • Lima

  • Mike

  • November

  • Oscar

  • Papa

  • Quebec

  • Romeo

  • Sierra

  • Tango

  • Uniform

  • Victor

  • Whiskey

  • X-Ray

  • Yankee

  • Zulu

Within this system,some slang has developed using flag signals and terms that are known to military personnel. Tango Uniform when stated to an individual asking about a certain person or piece of equipment correlates to “Tits Up.” This means the person is deceased, or the piece of equipment is beyond repair. If a Sergeant tells you to get to the Commander’s office for an Alpha Charlie, get prepared for an ass chewing. Hopefully your unit is not a Charlie Foxtrot, because the General does not like a ClusterF****.

I believe you get my point. The military has slang that cannot be easily understood by a normal person, and in some cases, they use the Military Alphabet to enhance that slang.

Final Thoughts

For those of you who were not familiar with the military alphabet, hopefully you now have a better idea how it works.

If you have any questions, or would like to add some more facts about the military alphabet, please post them below. We value your input, and we try to answer all questions accurately.

And with that I will say: thank you for visiting Papa, Tango Charlie, Oscar, Mike, Mike, Alpha, November, Delta, Echo, Romeo.

Have a great day!

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Thanks for Your Service,

Chuck Holmes

SKYPE: mrchuckholmes
(352) 503-4816 home office
Email: chuck@part-time-commander.com

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