More on phonetics

As often happens, I was talking to a customer over a poor cellular connection today. We have to exchange a lot of data to complete an order. He’s spelling the name of his street.

“Wait; that’s A, T, T as in alpha tango tango?” I say to confirm.
“No, it’s hotel echo papa”
“Wow!” I said “I really got that wrong” and I’m thinking to myself, “Bam! We’re home free– this guy knows standard phonetics.” Without it, we’d have had a hell of a frustrating time.

So, Young Grasshopper; learn your Standard Phonetics.

I’m still amazed and disgusted that most cop shops have their own systems, which makes it more difficult because for one, they don’t always use words that all sound completely different from one another, and too, if you know Standard Phonetics, their retarded cop phonetics don’t sound familiar and it therefore takes longer to comunicate. Moron phonetics.

Learning the standard system is easy. There are only twenty six of them, and as it happens, each one starts with a different letter of the alphabet (fancy that) so it’s really easy. It’s an international system, and most pilots, military and ham operators already know it hands down. Whaterya waitin’ for?

Practice. For example, if I look to my left on my desk, I can read off in my mind, “Hotel Papa…Delta echo sierra kilo julliette echo tango.” Stuff like that. Road signs, what have you. This should be taught in school, except for the fact that kids should know it before they get to school.

On a similar note; use text on your phone when the signal is too poor to use the more bandwidth-hogging voice communication. If you have only one bar on the s-meter it still works like a charm whereas vioce communication is two steps below impossible. I explained that to my daughter a while back, and was surprized that she hadn’t thought of it. I’d though it would have been obvious even to a teen-aged school girl– a few dew drops of bits verses a tsunami/torrent of bits, you know.


20 thoughts on “More on phonetics

  1. I find myself constantly using phonetics while talking on the phone. Sometimes, though, I forget exactly which word I’m looking for, and my braincell supplies an alternative (“that’s ‘U’ as in….er…’underwear’). LOL Still gets the point across. I just don’t use them enough anymore to be able to rattle the whole thing off without a few hiccups.

    And don’t even start me on the Morse Code….I’ve tried to learn that so many times, but its like learning another language. The Good Lord did not see fit to design me to communicate with anyone other than Americans, in standard American English (and Redneck!).

    • Morse is easy. It just takes a bit of practice, that’s all.

      /Didadidit, to *HELL* with it.

      • Speaking as someone that used to do tech support for the Borg domestically, I have to say that I HAVE used it a few times to make things totally clear, and it can be REALLY helpful. But using it with a heavy accent to a foreign call center? That sounds like it could be either a total life-saver, or cruel and unusual.

        • I actually had to use it today, talking to a website’s tech support. The lady was really nice, and spoke great English, no idea where they were located or what her background was, but the user I was calling about is of Hispanic decent, and I had to use phonetics to spell his name out. Only had to spell it once, though!

          As for Morse, I *do* remember how to tap out SOS if needed. But that’s it. Braincell REALLY doesn’t like other languages.

    • Morse uses a “different part of the brain” I think. The phonetic alphabet is still all “analog” words, but the code is pure digital. I suspect that musicians have an easier time with the code because they’re already used to interpreting rythms. Just a theory. I learned it enough to pass the General class ham test, receiveing at 13 words per minute IIRC.

      If you search just a little bit you can find computer programs for practicing the code. I did that years ago, and it really helped my typing skills– you have to type the letters given to you in code, so if you can’t type, you’re screwed.

      The best code practicioners I’ve known were W.W.II vets who used it back then for official communiucation. Some of them could receive code in excess of 20 WPM while carryiong on a separate conversation, or send and receive code while driving, using a paddle key mounted to one leg.

      Same goes for code (“CW” for continuous wave) as for text on a cell phone– you can get through with a signal that’s too poor to carry on useful voice communication. Being no more than an unmodulated carrier wave (continuous wave) switched on and off, it uses less bandwidth, so you can use a super narrow bandpass filter and get rid of most of the noise, plus the tone cuts through pretty well. I’ve talked to Japan from here on CW, through quite a lot of interference. Some hams do that stuff with only 5 Watts out, using a little battery powered box not much larger than a cigarette pack as a transmitter, and a wire antenna suspended in the trees. That’s hard core. You can sometimes tell which hams those are, by the sound of the super simple transmitter. They tend to drop in frequency according to load, so you hear “chirp” in the tone, like; “piew pi piew piew….piew piew pi piew…”

      • You’re right, it helps if you have some musical ability, because Morse is very rhythmic.

        BTW, I was a Morse interceptor in the Army back in the mid-to-late 1980’s. Didn’t know any Morse other than “SOS” before I joined. Now, I do it while driving down the road in my car. Contacted a guy in Argentina the other day doing just that.

  2. Text is asynchronous too: if you have a signal and at the moment I don’t, it’ll get to me when i do.

    Also, for that and bandwidth reasons, it has much better odds in an overloaded system in a disaster.

    Good stuff.

  3. for shame. post about the phonetic alphabet and don’t post the alphabet…


      • Had a Chief once who, once he stopped laughing, informed me that the correct sequence was NOT

        Yup. It was a late night (technically well into the morning of the next day) with too little caffeine, and I was on the sound-powered phones relaying orders to open and shut valves, etc (trying to avoid spilling “radioactive” water into the harbor, for some strange reason), and started using that version to name the valves. ‘Course, I’m evil, cuz the guy on the other end was relaying the original orders from the officer on duty, and he was trying his hardest NOT to laugh…

        *this was about 20 years ago, when my braincell wasn’t quite as …civilized as it is now, so I can’t remember what some of the words were. But you get the general idea, I hope.

  4. Maybe the contorted LEO phonetics explains why the BATFE has such a great reputation for kicking the wrong door?

    “Was that 962 Browning Drive, or *5*62?”
    “Hell, I don’t know, kick ’em both in….”

  5. gulf?

    Given the various sandbox exercises of the last couple decades vs the decline in “men in funny pants, walking” it would make some sense to change it. Then again, the major body using it is not especially noted for common sense.

    • Supposed to be GOLF, I believe.
      I don’t have a cell phone. Don’t really need one. But the one thing a government disaster-preparedness drone giving a talk ever said that was new to me was “if you get a cell phone for emergencies, it HAS TO HAVE TEXT!.” It almost always goes through. MUCH more reliable than voice communication in an emergency. She said her experience in disaster zones doing recovery was that non-text cell phone were near useless, and texting was the way to go. Gave several examples. Made sense. I still don’t have a cell phone, though 🙂

      • It’s even better if you have a ham radio. No infrastructure required. So long as you have electrical power in the form of a battery, and the ionosphere hasn’t been blown away in some sort of planetary disaster, you’ll be able to get a hold of *SOMEONE*, *SOMEWHERE*, which is the important thing in a true emergency.

        Plus, up where I live, the 2 meter repeaters have much better coverage than the cell sites.

  6. You’ll get a chuckle out of this, Joe. My employer’s place of business is in Kentucky. We do most of our business via email and ftp now, but we used to have a lot of material FedExed in and had to give people the address. I got so used to spelling out the names of the street and city, it became automatic. And, when it came to the state, I’d go, “Kay-Wye — like the jelly.”


  7. It occurs to me that most of the cop dispatchers are female, and that may be the genesis of their different code words.
    I worked with the CHP for a few years, and throwing mil spec code at them just frustrated them to hell. Took me a while to sort of get used to their version, but it was difficult for me due to a memory problem caused by some brain damage. My list is out in my car, in case I have to call their dispatch for road problems. Anyway, the list is composed of proper names and colors. Proper names (anything that would be Capitalized, generally) is stored in a separate brain area, and mine is not in good shape, I guess. Examples: George, Mary, Yellow… I’m thinking this is just what a woman would use.

    Off topic a bit:
    Since they have expanded the cell system 911 to include the local towns, now when you call 911 to report a problem on the freeway, you get the PD’s dispatcher. In my experience, they don’t want to transfer you to the Highway Patrol. Even when I am asking for their area dispatch office by their radio call name (which should give them some idea I know what I’m doing), they want to argue about it. Seems they want to be the conduit or filter between us. I don’t mind them staying in the circuit when they transfer the call, in fact it would make sense for them to do that, providing they aren’t swamped at the moment. That would save time if some aspect of the report could impact the local forces in some manner. But they have no business playing the equivalent of the party game “telephone”.

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