Phonetic Alphabet

Many companies and organisations that deal with communications use the phonetic alphabet. For those that are not sure, this is the English alphabet with a standardised corresponding attribute. It’s also known as the Nato alphabet, and it’s full name is “international radiotelephony spelling alphabet“.

It was developed sometime in the 1950’s and used in radio and telephone military communications to prevent errors in the transmitting of information. It is now widely used by business for the same reason.

In alphabetical order the phonetic alphabet is: A=Alfa, B=Bravo, C=Charlie, D=Delta, E=Echo, F=Foxtrot, G=Golf, H=Hotel, I=India, J=Juliett, K=Kilo, L=Lima, M=Mike, N=November, O=Oscar, P=Papa, Q=Quebec, R=Romeo, S=Sierra, T=Tango, U=Uniform, V=Victor, W=Whiskey, X=X-ray, Y=Yankee, Z=Zulu.

Many people use it in their day-to-day business dealings. And even for people who don’t use it, many of them know what it is and what it’s used for. Occasionally you get someone who has never heard of it or, just simply, refuses point blank to acknowledge it. I had dealings with one of the latter people yesterday.

A gentleman called our business with queries about his account. He came through to myself and I duly asked for his address including postcode. Well I couldn’t determine whether the one letter was a ‘T’ or something else – whether it was his accent or the muffled line I don’t know. So I spelt out the postcode he had given me using the phonetic alphabet. He confirmed it was correct. I told him that nothing was coming up with that postcode and I spelt it out again to double check. He again confirmed it was correct. I checked it again and he again confirmed it was right, so then I had to ask for other details to find his account.

When I had eventually found the details it appeared that the postcode on his account was slightly different. I explained this to the customer and said that I needed to check it to make sure we had the correct address otherwise he wouldn’t receive paperwork, and any engineer he called may go to the wrong address. So I phonetically spelt out the postcode he had confirmed as being correct and I did the same with the postcode on his account and asked him which one was correct.

Anyone reading this is probably wondering why there was so much hassle. Well, this is because the customer refused to spell out his postcode so I had to keep guessing what this one particular letter was. He was not being at all helpful. And then he had the cheek to say that he had told me already and to put another person on the phone!

I tried very hard to keep my cool and my patience. I explained again that I had to check. This time I decided to use boys names for the letters. This actually worked. Couldn’t believe it! He was quite happy to accept male denominations for the letters.

This was a man in his 70’s. I would have thought that he would know what the phonetic alphabet was and would know some of the letters. I was clearly wrong. Either that or he was deliberately being awkward. You decide.


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