Words & Stuff

A: Now I Know My

(6 July 1997)

When airplane pilots and military personnel need to refer to letters of the alphabet, they use the NATO phonetic alphabet. In this system there's a word for each letter, to avoid confusion among letters whose names sound similar (especially over a noisy radio):

Alpha
Bravo
Charlie
Delta
Echo
Foxtrot
Golf
Hotel
India
Juliet
Kilo
Lima
Mike
November
Oscar
Papa
Quebec
Romeo
Sierra
Tango
Uniform
Victor
Whiskey
Xray
Yankee
Zulu

(Thanks to PJ Groeneveldt for refreshing my memory on these.) Some organizations that use the above phonetic alphabet use slightly different spelling on some items; for details, see the amazingly exhaustive multilingual phonetic alphabets list on the Web. Note that there are also special words for certain numerical digits: specifically, 3 is "tree," 4 is "fower," 5 is "fife," and 9 is "niner." Note also that the WWII naval radio phonetic alphabet that starts out "Able, Baker, Charlie" precedes (and is superseded by) the NATO alphabet above.

In recognition of the start of a new six-month cycle of columns, here are some other alphabetic amusements.

There's a parlor game in which players take turns adding words to a list, with each word starting with the next letter of the alphabet in sequence; each player in turn has to recite the whole list so far before adding a new one. One person might start, "I went on a trip, and I took an abacus." The next could add, "I went on a trip, and I took an abacus and a bowling ball." And so on. You can make it a little harder by doing themed vacations, with all words required to be in a certain category, such as living things: "I went on a trip and I took along an aardvark, some bacteria, and a camel."

Jim Moskowitz, Chaos Golubitsky, Kim Gallup, and Amy Swift recently played "I went on a guilt trip, and I took..." Here's what they took:

my Anxiety
Bad feelings
a Crying jag
Despair
Existential angst
Failure
a Guilt complex
my Humility
my Insanity
my Jealousy
a Killjoy
my Loathing
Melancholy
Narcissism
my Oppression
Persecution
my Quarrelsome nature
my Repression
my Sadomasochism
Tantrums
Unrest
my Vindictiveness
Wallowing
my Ex
Youthful indiscretions
and the Zeitgeist.

(I changed one of the items that was something of an in-joke.)

Jim was also one of the creators, along with Bhadrika Love and David Van Stone, of a new version of the old alphabet song, to the same tune as the original:

A, B, I, G, R, X, Q
M, Z, L, V, K-C-W [emphasis on last syllable -- double-you]
T, Y, F
H, U, E
N, S, P
O, J, D
Now I know my A-B-I's;
Next time you won't be surprised!


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Jed Hartman <logophilia@kith.org>