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.


  • 2
    The real question is: why does it contain single-syllable words? Golf and Mike are by far the hardest to copy over a noisy channel.
    – Leandro
    Commented Jan 26, 2023 at 12:20

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.

  • 14
    Redundancy is a feature, not a bug.
    – jlawler
    Commented Feb 20, 2020 at 0:47

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