I always wondered why the NATO Spelling Alphabet has words with three syllables in it. I know it was extensively researched, so there must be a reason, but it seems odd to me.

One syllable seems indeed a bit short on noisy communications. But two syllables seem perfect. Also for keeping the pace smooth.


1 Answer 1


The goal of the NATO spelling alphabet is to make the symbols as easily-distinguishable as possible, even over noisy channels (such as radio). Brevity (keeping the words short) is secondary to that. So it comes down to optimization.

In the end, the original designers determined that the extra clarity from using some three-syllable words outweighed the extra time it would take to say them. It's the same reason four-syllable "affirmative" and three-syllable "negative" are used over the radio: it wouldn't be hard to come up with two-syllable or even one-syllable words for these ("yes"/"no", "confirm"/"deny"), but confusing the two could be absolutely catastrophic. So the extra certainty is worth the extra syllables.

  • 12
    Redundancy is a feature, not a bug.
    – jlawler
    Feb 20, 2020 at 0:47

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

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