The military alphabet is officially known as the NATO phonetic alphabetor the International Radiotelephony Spelling Alphabet or the ICAO (International Civil Aviation Organization) phonetic alphabet—and is the most widely used spelling alphabet in the world. It consists of 26 words that correspond to the 26 letters of the English alphabet and was developed to eliminate communication problems that arise because of language differences and low-quality channels. Before the recognition of an international alphabet, navies and armies across the world all had their own version of a spelling alphabet, which caused a ton of confusion when they had to communicate with each other.
In 1920, the first spelling alphabets started making the rounds, and by 1927, a recognized alphabet was created for use. There were several problems with it, and it underwent a few more changes until 1947, when what is commonly known as the Joint Army/Navy alphabet was created. It was also called the Able/Baker alphabet because those were the first two code words in the alphabet. Then the alphabet changed a couple more times until being finalized in 1956. The 1956 version of the alphabet is still in use today and is commonly known as the military alphabet. How well do you know your Alfa Bravo Charlies? Put your skills to the test here.
Alfa is the military code word for the letter "A." It's commonly spelled "alpha" outside the military, and it's also the first letter of the Greek alphabet, which is one of the oldest alphabets in the world. (Don't get it confused with alfalfa, which is a flowering plant that people and animals eat.)
Bravo is the military code name for "B," and it's also a common word used by the audience at an opera. The original meaning of the word is "brave and bold." Over time, these words were combined to form the single word "bravo."
The military code word for the letter "C" is Charlie. The military began adopting code names for each letter in the early 20th century, and the alphabet changed several times before being finalized in 1956. "Charlie" was once "Canada," "Casablanca" and "Coco."
Papa is the military code word for the letter "P." The letter "p" was once code named "Peter" back in 1943 but was changed in 1956. Papa is universally recognized as a nickname for fathers and grandfathers everywhere.
Echo is the military code word for the letter "E." Echo is also a noun that defines a sound caused by the reflection of other sound waves. If you stand in an empty cave and yell, you'll probably hear your voice echo.
Quebec is the military code name for the letter "Q." Quebec is the second-most populous province in Canada with more than 8.3 million residents. The military code word for the letter "q" changed from "queen" to Quebec in 1956.
Foxtrot is the military code name for the letter "F." It was simply "fox" in 1946 but was then changed to "foxtrot." Foxtrot is also a popular ballroom dance that originated in the early 1900s.
Whiskey is the military code word for the letter "W." It changed from "William" to "whiskey" in 1956. Whiskey is also a popular distilled spirit that comes in several varieties ranging from bourbon and rye, to Irish and Canadian.
India is the military code name for the letter "I." The code name for "I" used to be "item." India is the second-most populous country in the world with 1.3 billion citizens. It's the most-populous democracy in the world.
Juliett is the military code name for the letter "J." It was changed from "jig" to "Juliett" in 1956, and unlike Shakespeare's famous character, it's spelled with two "T"s. The name means youthful, and its popularity is on the rise in the United States.
Romeo is the military code name for the letter "R." It used to be "Roger" in 1946 but was then changed and finalized in 1956. Romeo is most famously known as the protagonist in William Shakespeare's tragic play, "Romeo and Juliet."
Yankee is the military code name for the letter "Y." The code name changed from "yoke" to "yankee" in 1956, and it's also the name of the most valuable baseball team in the MLB: the New York Yankees.
X-ray is the military code word for the letter "X," and it' remained the same since 1946. An X-ray image can produce an image of the inside of your body and is the easiest way to see how much damage has been done to a broken bone.
November is the military code name for the letter "N." It changed from "nan" to "nectar" to "November" and hasn't been changed since. It's the only month to be used as a code name in the military alphabet.
Delta is the military code word for the letter "D." The code word used to be "dog" in 1946 but was changed to "delta" in 1956. Delta is also the fourth letter of the Greek alphabet or a geographical formation at the mouth of a river.
Sierra is the military code name for the letter "S." The code name changed from "sugar" to "Sierra" in 1956. The Sierra Nevada is the name of a mountain range in the western United States that covers an area of just under 40,000 square miles.
Uniform is the military code word for the letter "U," and it changed from "uncle" to "uniform" in 1956. A uniform is also a dress code for many professions, like police officers, soldiers and firefighters.
Victor is the military code name for the letter "V," and it has remained the same through the major changes of the military alphabet. A victor is someone who has won whatever contest they're participating in. It's also a common name for boys.
Kilo is the military code word for the letter "K." It was changed from "king" to "kilo" in 1956 and hasn't been changed since. A kilo is a prefix meaning thousand (1,000) and is used as an abbreviation for kilogram, which means 1,000 grams. A kilojoule is 1,000 joules, which are units of energy.
Mike is the military code name for the letter "M" and has been in use in the military alphabet since 1946. It's also a popular abbreviation for the name Michael and is one of the most popular boys names of all time.
Hotel is the military code word for the letter "H," and it changed from "how" in 1946 to "hotel" in 1956. A hotel, as you most likely know, is a type of accommodation frequented by travelers. They can be luxury, boutique, budget or anything between.
Lima is the military code name for the letter "L," and it changed from "love" to "Lima" in 1956. Lima is also the capital city in Peru, which is one of 12 South American countries. Peru is home to Machu Picchu and has a population of just more than 32 million citizens.
Golf is the military code word for the letter "G." The code word used to be "George" but was changed in 1956. Golf is a sport that is said to have been invented somewhere in the United Kingdom. It's either very relaxing or very irritating sport depending on how well you're playing.
Oscar is the military code name for the letter "O," and it changed from "oboe" to "Oscar" in 1956. Oscar is also the nickname for the Academy Award statue or it can be a boy's name, most popular in Latin America.
Tango is the military code word for the letter "T." The code word was "tare" in 1946 and then changed in 1956. Tango is also a popular ballroom dance that originated in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Some people also use it to describe an orange-yellow color.
Zulu is the military code name for the letter "Z." The code name changed from "zebra" to "Zulu" in 1956. Zulu is the ethnic name of a group of people in South Africa where the influential Zulu Kingdom once ruled supreme.
Using the simple rules of the military alphabet, "Whiskey Tango Foxtrot" means "WTF," and it's been used by soldiers for this reason since the late 1980s. It's not exactly known where the phrase originated, but it's used in the military and pop culture today.
In military slang, "Charlie Mike" means "continue mission." "Our plane is out, we're going to Charlie Mike." It's not easy to understand someone a couple miles away amid the noises of war, so knowing the slang is essential.
Using the military alphabet, "Lima Charlie" is slang for "loud and clear." If your supervisor asks you over the radio whether you understand the instructions that have just been given to you, you may respond, "Lima Charlie."
Using the military alphabet, "Echo Tango Suitcase" is slang for Expiration Term of Service. The term is used to define the end of a soldier's service contract. It's often used humorously in regards to servicemen and women who have no intention of reenlisting.
Tango Down is the military alphabet phrase for "Target Down." If you hear over the radio, "Second guard is Tango Down," it means the second wave of the enemy is down. It can also be used to describe a physical target, like a military plane or building.
Using the military alphabet, "November Golf" is slang for "NG," which is an abbreviation for "no go," which means to fail. Army evaluations are graded "Go" or "No Go," so a cadet who completed his test November Golf is a cadet who failed the test.
Using the military alphabet, "Charlie's Chicken Farm" is slang for a Correctional Custody Facility (CCF). A CCF can also be called "Charlie Charlie Foxtrot," and it's a low-level military prison. It's usually just barracks surrounded by fencing.
Bravo Zulu is the military alphabet phrase for saying "well done." This is confusing, since it'd make sense to use something like "Whiskey Delta" to say "well done," but it isn't the case. Here, "Bravo" is used in the traditional sense of the word. This phrase is used among the navy.
Using the military alphabet, "LMAO" can be expressed "Lima Mike Alfa Oscar." It would be near pointless to relay this message over the radio, however, and the reason for the military alphabet is radio communications.