If you’re in IT or any other field where you have to say and spell things like URLs, user names or worst of all passwords over the phone you know how frustrating it can be when the person on the other end of the phone doesn’t quite understand the words and letters you’re saying! This problem stems from the tendency we have to use visual clues (lip reading) to interpret what we hear.

Despite the ubiquity of email and chat tools sometimes you have to do business over the phone (especially as passwords should never be sent via email.) Thankfully this problem was solved a long time ago by radio operators by using a common spelling alphabet.

The most popular spelling alphabet is the NATO phonetic alphabet (seen below) which uses familiar and easily distinguished words.

Letter Code Word Letter Code Word
A Alpha N November
B Bravo O Oscar
C Charlie P Papa
D Delta Q Quebec
E Echo R Romeo
F Foxtrot S Sierra
G Golf T Tango
H Hotel U Uniform
I India V Victor
J Juliet W Whiskey
K Kilo X X-ray
L Lima Y Yankee
M Mike Z Zulu

I’ve decided to keep a printed copy of this chart at my desk so I don’t have to worry about coming up with awkward words every time I need to spell out a password. If you want one too here’s my printable version.

alphabet, spelling, nato, passwords