The NATO Phonetic Alphabet, also referred to as the international radiotelephony spelling alphabet, is widely used in military for audio transmissions, but it is also necessary and widely used for careers using telephones to spell out similar sounding words or determine the proper letter being communicated. This is especially helpful when experiencing a lot of static or interference of any sort. For example, someone working at a call center might not hear whether someone is saying “sat” or “fat” and would need the caller to spell out “Sierra – Alpha – Tango” for the word sat. Although many people use simple words off the top of their head and might not know the phonetic alphabet, it is easier to use a more universal and standard phonetic alphabet where the words are always the same that are used to spell things out, rather than just saying “S as in Sam, A as in apple, T as in Tobacco,” for example, or “S as in Saturday, A as in apricot, T as in telephone.” Also commonly used for flights (American Federal Aviation Administration, or FAA) and police and other emergency dispatch.
Most languages use a phonetic alphabet of their own, and there is also an international phonetic alphabet based on the Latin alphabet. Western Union has developed their own phonetic alphabet as well.
Of the NATO phonetic alphabet: “Most of the words are recognizable by native English speakers because English must be used upon request for communication between an aircraft and a control tower whenever two different nations are involved, regardless of their native languages. But it is only required internationally, not domestically, thus if both parties of a radio conversation are from the same country, then another phonetic alphabet of that nation’s choice may be used,” according to Wikipedia.
The words to represent the alphabet have changed a bit over time, but the standard phonetic alphabet today has been in use without changes since 1957. The NATO Phonetic Alphabet is widely used in business and telecommunications in Europe as well as North America.
A Brief History
Wikipedia states that the “U.S. adopted the Joint Army/Navy Phonetic Alphabet during 1941 to standardize systems amongst all branches of its armed forces. [This] U.S. alphabet became known as Able Baker after the words for A and B.” This early version was amended after testing how people from other nations pronounced the words. The final version was implemented by the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) in 1956. Also according to Wikipedia: “Because the ITU governs all international radio communications, it was also adopted by all radio operators, whether military, civilian, or amateur (ARRL). It was finally adopted by the IMO [International Maritime Organization] in 1965.”
Phonetic Alphabet with slight spelling variations:
Wikipedia: NATO Phonetic Alphabet
About.com: U.S. Military
Dynamoo: NATO Phonetic Alphabet
as published at Factoidz.com