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The NATO Phonetic Alphabet

You’ll know about the NATO Phonetic Alphabet, the words that are used to represent the 26 letters of the English alphabet. It starts with Alpha, Bravo and Charlie for A, B and C. You might know the remaining 23 words already. If so, you have either deliberately set out to learn them or you have come across them often enough to know that Hotel, India and Uniform are the words for the 8th, 9th and 21st letters of the alphabet. Those are the three words that I have had most difficulty remembering since deliberately trying to learn all 26 of them in the early years of this century.

If you want to test yourself to see if the full list comes to mind easily, look away now, otherwise you’ll encounter it in two paragraphs’ time.

The NATO Phonetic Alphabet has been on my mind in recent weeks after a couple of quiz questions on TV. My children didn’t know the answers to them, so I explained what it was all about and recited the words from Alpha to Zulu. I can’t remember exactly what those quiz questions on TV were, partly because I spent the following weekend making up my own questions. They could have been, “The letter J is represented in the NATO Phonetic Alphabet by which Shakespearean heroine?” (Juliet), or “What word in the NATO Phonetic Alphabet is also the name of a Canadian province?” (Quebec), or maybe it was, “The letter R is represented in the NATO Phonetic Alphabet by which Shakespearean hero?” (Romeo)

One Saturday afternoon in February we were in a Wagamama in North London waiting for our food to arrive. We ate in many Wagamama restaurants when the children were much smaller. We even kept a record of which ones we had visited. Ten years ago the fold-up takeaway menu had a list of all their branches and we made a note of where we had eaten. By the end of 2016 there were no more than six in the London area, from that original list, that we hadn’t visited. But there are many newer branches now, and the menu no longer lists them all. Now, aged 11 and 13, the children no longer ask for crayons and the children’s menu so that they can colour in the pictures or complete the puzzles. Instead, on that February afternoon, I turned over the big sheet of paper that serves as a place mat and wrote out the 26 words from the NATO Phonetic Alphabet on the reverse side. They are (and look away now if you’re still trying to recite them from memory):

Alpha Bravo Charlie Delta Echo

Foxtrot Golf Hotel India Juliet

Kilo Lima Mike November Oscar

Papa Quebec Romeo Sierra Tango

Uniform Victor Whisky X-Ray Yankee


And, with the list on display, I made up at least one question for each word. They went something like this, and each question begins with the words, “What word in the NATO Phonetic Alphabet is …”

  1. A metric unit of weight equivalent to 2.2lb?
  2. The name of both a fizzy orange-flavoured drink and a dance from Argentina?
  3. The first name of the character played by Richard Wilson in “One foot in the grave” and a word meaning “winner”?
  4. The name of a photographic image often taken in hospitals to check for broken bones?
  5. The name of an African tribe and also a 1962 film starring Michael Caine?
  6. The name of a large Asian country?
  7. Followed by the word California in the name of an Eagles hit?
  8. A slang word for an American, and also features in the name of a New York baseball club?
  9. The fourth letter of the Greek alphabet, and the name of an American airline?
  10. A repeated sound, made when sound waves reflect off a surface back to the listener?
  11. The first letter of the Greek alphabet?
  12. The first name of the actor who played Austin Powers and of the English cricket captains Brearley and Gatting?
  13. The name of a month?
  14. Also used to describe an Academy Award?
  15. A province in Canada?
  16. Used to praise a singer or other performer after a show?
  17. A sport associated with Tiger Woods and Jack Nicklaus?
  18. The capital of Peru?
  19. The French word for “daddy”?
  20. An alcoholic drink, distilled from grain in Scotland and Ireland?
  21. Used to describe clothes worn by police officers and most schoolchildren?
  22. The Spanish word for a mountain range?
  23. The name of a Shakespearean hero and David Beckham’s second child?
  24. The name of a Shakespearean heroine and a 1964 UK #1 by the Four Pennies?
  25. The first name of the star of the silent film “The Gold Rush” and also features in the titles of two Roald Dahl books?
  26. A ballroom dance, used to denote the letter F?

You probably don’t need a list of the answers, but here they are anyway:

  1. Kilo
  2. Tango
  3. Victor
  4. X-Ray
  5. Zulu
  6. India
  7. Hotel
  8. Yankee
  9. Delta
  10. Echo
  11. Alpha
  12. Mike
  13. November
  14. Oscar
  15. Quebec
  16. Bravo
  17. Golf
  18. Lima
  19. Papa
  20. Whisky
  21. Uniform
  22. Sierra
  23. Romeo
  24. Juliet
  25. Charlie
  26. Foxtrot



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