Quite often we are asked to spell out our name or an address over the phone and to make sure the person on the other end gets it right we do it letter by letter. Like many other people I just say the first thing that comes in to my head. I live in Highbury: that is H for Harry, i for, er, Ink, g for George, er h for harry again, er b for er, Bertie, u for, er Uraguay, r for Robert and y for, er yellow. When the word is read back to me a familiar set of representative words is used which I always think I should remember but never do. H for Hotel, i for India, g for Golf.........fragments of the so-called International Phonetic Alphabet float in from the memory bank: Oscar, Whisky, Tango.
The other night we had a game trying to remember the agreed alphabet that was adopted internationally in 1956 and is both familiar and difficult to remember if you don't use it every day. I wonder how many people can rattle it off. I also wonder how the decision was made that "L is for Lima". There were quite a number of other adopted phonetic alphabets before the one most widely used today. The purpose was always to look for words which, when spoken on a crackly telephone in the heat of battle, could not be misinterpreted. Here it is, clear as a bell: Oscar, Victor, Echo, Romeo, Alpha, November, Delta, Oscar, Uniform, Tango. Where does the punctuation go?