I didn’t expect to be writing about this topic as a full-length blog post, but last week, I devised a new phonetic alphabet.

The existing NATO version is well-known and intended to be understood in a few different languages, so why tamper with that? It was partly for fun but partly for curiosity: to find out whether I could compile the list using as many rhymes and homophones as possible, thus rendering it useless for any practical purpose.

For example, the terms ‘Bravo’, ‘Delta’ and ‘Papa’ remove any ambiguity between ‘B’, ‘D’ and ‘P’, even when said with other words on a dodgy radio connection. I’ve instead used ‘Banter’, ‘Damper’ and ‘Pander’, which can sound identical over a radio, especially surrounded by other words.

Here’s a full list of my Frankenstein phonetics:

  • Ampere
  • Banter
  • Clacton
  • Damper
  • Empire
  • Falcon
  • Guitar
  • Hogarth
  • Impair
  • Jackson
  • Klaxon
  • Llanelli
  • Mighty
  • Nineteen
  • Oughwhere
  • Pander
  • Qatar
  • Roger
  • Saviour
  • Tamper
  • Umpire
  • Vulcan
  • Waiver
  • Xavier
  • Yngling
  • Zloty

There are other easily-confused groups such as ‘Guitar’, ‘Hogarth’ and ‘Qatar’. Then we have ‘Nineteen’ and ‘Roger’, neither of which sound as though they represent letters. Finally, the vowels more or less sound similar, while ‘Llanelli’, ‘Oughwhere’ and ‘Yngling’ are included because none of the words has an obvious correct pronunciation for people who are unfamiliar with them.

So what have I learnt from this exercise? Mostly that it’s not as simple as it sounds to create a hodgepodge of similar terms. If I’d picked words at random, they probably would have been distinctive enough from each other.

And what will I do with this list? Probably nothing; it is, after all, meant to be a useless alphabet.

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