In many police procedural TV shows, when police officer try to told partners (or IT guys) the vehicle identification number (or flight number, driver license number, etc...), they will use full word to describe each letter of the number to make sure the information are clearly and unambiguously delivered, such as when describing ABM, they may say Alpha Beta Merry.

So what is the terminology of this? It's something like "reversed acronym/initial", but what it is actually called?

  • 1
    That’s called using a phonetic alphabet. In the ICAO phonetic alphabet that ’M’ would be 'Mike’
    – Jim
    Dec 25, 2017 at 7:38
  • @Jim, thanks, my memory may got corrupt. I remembered one character said 'Merry', probably messed up with other memories. Dec 25, 2017 at 9:53
  • In a poorly researched TV show - of which there have been more than a few - M could be 'Mary'...
    – Rob_Ster
    Dec 25, 2017 at 11:16

1 Answer 1


You might be referring to NATO phonetic alphabet:

The International Radiotelephony Spelling Alphabet, commonly known as the ICAO phonetic alphabet, and in a variation also known officially as the ITU phonetic alphabet and figure code, sometimes called the NATO phonetic alphabet, is the most widely used radiotelephone spelling alphabet.

enter image description here


Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge that you have read and understand our privacy policy and code of conduct.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.