Phonetic Alphabets: S as in Summertime

phonograms sign at invercargill museum, new zealand

I’m not sure whether it was “S as in Summertime” or “X as in Xylophone” that pushed my father over the edge, but by the time I finished talking with tech support, his face was bright red. “S as in Sierra! Everybody all over the world knows that,” he said.

I had no idea.

Actually, I had seen a copy of the military alphabet code or NATO phonetic alphabet taped to a friend’s refrigerator recently and laughed at him. Who talks like that? (Please forgive me!) I thought up words every time I spoke on the phone as a form of creative expression and mood indicator.

At least I am kind and resist the urge to say “A as in Aisle, B as in Bdellium, C as in Czar, D as in Djinn, E as in Eureka, G as in Gnome, H as in Honest, J as in Jicama, K as in Knock, M like Mnemonic, O for Ouija, P as in Pneumonia, Q for Qat, T as in Tsunami, W as in Who, X as in Xylophone…” OK, so I’ve used “X as in Xylophone.”

Here is the official military alphabet code/NATO phonetic alphabet: Alpha Bravo Charlie Delta Echo Foxtrot Golf Hotel India Juliet Kilo Lima Mike November Oscar Papa Quebec Romeo Sierra Tango Uniform Victor Whiskey X-Ray Yankee Zulu

Well it turns out everyone doesn’t talk like that. Or at least they haven’t always. I found the Phonogram chart image above in the Southland Museum and Art Gallery in Invercargill, New Zealand.

Here are some other examples:
Western Union Phonetic Alphabet
Adams Boston Chicago Denver Easy Frank George Henry Ida John King Lincoln Mary New_York Ocean Peter Queen Roger Sugar Thomas Union Victor William X-ray Young Zero

‘British A’: Amsterdam Baltimore Casablanca Denmark Edison Florida Gallipoli Havana Italia Jerusalem Kilogramme Liverpool Madagascar New_York Oslo Paris Quebec Roma Santiago Tripoli Uppsala Valencia Washington Xantippe Yokohama Zurich

Bombay telephone directory 1962 (also a later source): Army Brother Cinema Doctor English Father Gold Hotel India Jam King Lady Mother Navy Orange Paper Queen Raja Sister Table Uncle Victory Water X-ray Yellow Zero

Kenyan and Tanzanian telephone directories 1966: Africa Bombay Charlie Durban England Freddie George Harry India Japan Kenya London Mombasa Nairobi Orange Peter Queen Robert Sugar Tanga Uganda Victory William X-Ray Yellow Zanzibar

RAF 1942-43: Apple Beer Charlie Dog Edward Freddy George Harry In Jug/Johnny King Love Mother Nuts Orange Peter Queen Roger/Robert Suga Tommy Uncle Vic William X-ray Yoke/Yorker Zebra

What does your phonetic alphabet look like?

Echo November Juliet Oscar Yankee!

3 Responses to “Phonetic Alphabets: S as in Summertime”
  1. Everett 4 November 2009 at 2:10 am #

    As it happens, I spent some time working on my own phonetic alphabet, designed along similar principles to your cruel example above. Here 'tis:

  2. Emily Davidow 5 November 2009 at 1:05 am #

    Thanks! You've got some great words there. I'm happy to have some company taking pleasure in anacrophony.

  3. Charles 2 August 2011 at 12:56 am #

    The Wikipedia page: Anti-Phonetic Alphabet is up for deletion.

    Please help me save it from deletion.

    Please add any known printed references to this alphabet and improve this page.

    Please share your thoughts on the matter at:
    Please indicate “KEEP” and your reasons why the page should be kept.

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