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The Joint Army/Navy Phonetic Alphabet is not a phonetic alphabet in the sense in which that term is used in phonetics, i.e., it is not a system for transcribing speech sounds. See the phonetic alphabet disambiguation page, and also phonetic notation.

The Joint Army/Navy Phonetic Alphabet was a radio alphabet developed in 1941 and was used by all branches of the United States military until the promulgation of the ICAO spelling alphabet (Alfa, Bravo) in 1956, which replaced it. Before the Joint Army/Navy (JAN) phonetic alphabet, each branch of the armed forces used its own radio alphabet, leading to difficulties in interbranch communication.

The U.S. Army used this alphabet in modified form, along with the British Army and Canadian Army from 1943 on, with "Sugar" replacing "Sail".

The Joint Army/Navy Phonetic Alphabet was used as storm names for Atlantic basin hurricanes from 1947 to 1952 before being replaced with female names.

Vestiges of the system remain in use in the U.S. Navy, in the form of Material Conditions of Readiness, used in damage control. Dog, William, X-Ray, Yoke, and Zebra all reference designations of fittings, hatches, or doors. The response "Roger" for "· – ·" or "R", to mean "received", also derives from this alphabet.

The names Able to Fox were also widely used in the early days of hexadecimal digital encoding of text in speaking of the hexadecimal digits equivalent to decimal 10 to 15, although the written form was simply the capital letters A to F. See hexadecimal.

Joint Army/Navy Phonetic Alphabet[1]
Letter Phonetic Letter Phonetic Letter Phonetic
A Able M Mike Y Yoke
B Baker N Nan Z Zebra
C Charlie O Oboe 0 Zero
D Dog P Peter 1 One
E Easy Q Queen 2 Two
F Fox R Roger 3 Three
G George S Sail/Sugar 4 Four
H How T Tare 5 Five
I Item U Uncle 6 Six
J Jig V Victor 7 Seven
K King W William 8 Eight
L Love X X-ray 9 Nine

Literary allusions[]

  • Able Baker Charlie (an anthropomorphic bread-baking mouse) was a children's picture book character created by author/illustrator Richard Scarry.[2]
  • Uncle Sugar, being the way the letters "U" and "S" were spelled out, was used in the armed services in place of Uncle Sam, especially when describing waste of taxpayers' money on needless equipment or stinginess of not providing necessary or expected equipment. Robert Heinlein used this in some of his stories.
  • Some of the characters in Tom Stoppard's plays Dogg's Hamlet and Cahoot's Macbeth include Able, Baker, Charlie, Dogg, Easy, and Fox.[3]

In William C. Anderson's BAT-21, The forward air controller recognizes how old--and how potentially senior--the downed pilot is when he "identifies" using JAN phonetics instead of the NATO standard which had replaced it more than ten years before.[4]


  1. Joint Army/Navy (JAN) phonetic alphabet from alt.usage.english (at the end)
  2. Scarry, Richard (1968). What Do People Do All Day? Random House, 1968. ISBN 978-0-394-81823-8.
  3. Dogg's Hamlet, Cahoot's Macbeth at the Internet Broadway Database.
  4. William C. Anderson, BAT-21.

External links[]

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