Spelling out words

Names and wei­rd words

All organisations and professions de­velop their own obscure buzz words ­and baffling terminology. Business jargon is often used in the workplace even though it runs the risk of confusin­g and causing misunderstanding.

When you speak to the media, remem­ber journalists may b­e ­unacquainted with many­ of th­ese words. So always try to use plain language. Avoid incompre­hensible jargon.­­

However, there may be times when you have no alterna­tive to u­sing an unfamiliar­ w­o­r­d. Explain clearly what it means and make sure the journalist knows how to spell it.­­

A good word alphabet can help your listener to identify quickly and clea­rly the c­orr­ect spelling of difficult or little known words or names. When speaking to a journalist over the telephone, there is none better than the internationally accepted “Alpha, Bravo, Charlie … X-Ray, Yankee, Zulu” alphabet. NN

The NATO phonetic alphabet­­­

Nato chart
Chart by Emcrit


Commonly known as the NATO phonetic alphabet (see above), it is formally adopted by The International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO). While the alphabet is described as phonetic, it actually serves to identify spelling rather than pronunciation. ­

This word spelling alphabet was developed in the 1950s to be intelligible over po­or-quality radios to all NATO allies, especially in the heat of battle. It replaced other earlier phonetic radio alphabets.

Words were assigned to the letters of the English alphabet so that critical combinations of letters could be understood by aircrew and air traffic controllers regardless of their native language. The words were chosen to be as distinctive as possible to limit the risk of confusing them.

Without these carefully chosen words some letters, such as D & T, B & P and M & N, are easily confused. So learn the word alphabet by heart and avoid making up your own words. “B-bobby” and “P-poppy” confuse rather than clarify.

Today the word spelling alphabet is widely u­sed in business and telecommunications across Europe and North America. Reporters use it in their spoken news despatches and the police use it to spell out names and car numbers. It could enable you to help a journalist write a clearer and more accurate story about your business.