If you've ever talked on a call with bad reception or with someone in a loud place, you know how difficult it can be to communicate using regular English. Many words sound similar and can be easily misunderstood, and the same is true for a few letters if you attempt to spell something out. Clear, expedient communication is vital to any military operation, and the everyday method of conveying ideas isn't always suitable. Without a solid understanding of what's being communicated, mistakes are likely to be made and may even be lethal.
Currently, the U.S. military uses the same phonetic alphabet adopted by NATO. More accurately, the alphabet is known as the International Radiotelephony Spelling Alphabet (IRSA). The International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) developed the IRSA to account for discrepancies in similar alphabets between different countries and organizations. Currently, the only difference in the IRSA among countries that adopt it is the spelling of certain words, such as Alfa for many European countries to avoid mispronunciations.
The military uses the IRSA to communicate for many different purposes including communicating code, shorthand, slang, and certain acronyms. For example, the phrase Tango Uniform correlates with the phrase tits up, which refers to either a deceased individual or a broken piece of equipment. These types of phrases may also arise from other forms of communication, such as the Naval saying "bravo zulu" which means "well done." Rather than relating directly back to the first letters of "well done," bravo zulu references flags of the same designation from a maritime tactical signals publication.
|Letter||1957-Present||Morse Code||1913||1927||1938||World War II|
|A||Alfa (or Alpha)||. _||Able||Affirmative||Afirm||Afirm (Able)|
|B||Bravo||_ . . .||Boy||Baker||Baker||Baker|
|C||Charlie||_ . _ .||Cast||Cast||Cast||Charlie|
|D||Delta||_ . .||Dog||Dog||Dog||Dog|
|F||Foxtrot||. . _ .||Fox||Fox||Fox||Fox|
|G||Golf||_ _ .||George||George||George||George|
|H||Hotel||. . . .||Have||Hypo||Hypo||How|
|I||India||. .||Item||Interrogatory||Int||Int (Item)|
|J||Juliett||. _ _ _||Jig||Jig||Jig||Jig|
|K||Kilo||_ . _||King||King||King||King|
|L||Lima||. _ . .||Love||Love||Love||Love|
|N||November||_ .||Nan||Negative||Negat||Negat (Nan)|
|O||Oscar||_ _ _||Oboe||Option||Option||Option (Oboe)|
|P||Papa||. _ _ .||Pup||Preparatory||Prep||Prep (Peter)|
|Q||Quebec||_ _ . _||Quack||Quack||Queen||Queen|
|R||Romeo||. _ .||Rush||Roger||Roger||Roger|
|S||Sierra||. . .||Sail||Sail||Sail||Sugar|
|U||Uniform||. . _||Unit||Unit||Unit||Uncle|
|V||Victor||. . . _||Vice||Vice||Victor||Victor|
|W||Whiskey||. _ _||Watch||William||William||William|
|X||X-ray||_ . . _||X-ray||X-ray||X-ray||X-ray|
|Y||Yankee||_ . _ _||Yoke||Yoke||Yoke||Yoke|
|Z||Zulu||_ _ . .||Zed||Zed||Zed||Zebra|
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