"in phonetics"

Arnold Zwicky zwicky at STANFORD.EDU
Wed Jul 8 18:17:46 UTC 2009

a little while ago, on an episode of NCIS, Special Agent Gibbs (played
by Mark Harman), annoyed when people failed to understand some proper
names, exhorted everyone to say the names "in phonetics" -- by which
he meant that they should use what's known in some circles (especially
military ones) as a "phonetic alphabet".  the technical term for these
is "spelling alphabet", but you can see why no one would want to say
that you should use "spelling".

a spelling alphabet is a kind of code for the letters of the alphabet,
in which each letter is represented by a word beginning with that
letter: Adam, Bravo, Charlie,...; Abel, Baker, Charlie,...

the wikipedia entry gives a number of spelling alphabets, for english
and a number of other languages:

i didn't find "phonetic alphabet" (in this sense) under either
"phonetic" or "alphabet" in the OED.  or "spelling alphabet" under
either "spelling" or "alphabet".


The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

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