The other day, this scrivener told about a confrontation he recently had on the phone. He was engaged in a spirited discussion about how to spell Philadelphia. To make sure he was being understood. Scriv resorted to "P-as-in-Paul," "H-as-in-Harry" and so on.
Well, the whole question of letters-as-in-words really turned the motor of Edward O'Brien, of Vienna, Va.
In the mail came a passionate plea from O'Brien, The gist: All those familiar misunderstandings (care when you mean dare, brick/trick, van/pan) would never happen if the world could agree once and for all on a phonetic alphabet.
O'Brien just happens to have written one himself.
He says he did it for the federal government near the end of World War II. He says it is now used for military purposes by every NATO country. He urges American phone companies and schools to adopt it without delay.
Here is the phonetic gospel according to O'Brien:
Alpha, Bravo, Charlie, Delta, Echo, Foxtrot, Golf, Hotel, India, Juliette, Kilo, Lima, Mike, November, Oscar, Papa, Quebec, Romeo, Sierra, Tango, Uniform, Victor, Whiskey, X-ray, Yankee and Zulu.
O'Brien would like one footnote to be included. He's a lifelong Boston Red Sox fan, he says, so any "Y" other than Yankee will be acceptable. Yawkey, in honor of former Red Sox owner Tom Yawkey, will be more than acceptable, O'Brien adds.
Well, I'm an Orioles fan, but that's not why I'm going to be picky. I say this to Mr. O'Brien and any who would support him:
Your alphabet doesn't do the job.
For one thing, look at all the two-syllable words. Nineteen of them, to be exact, out of a possible 26.
Then look at the five three-syllable words.
That leaves exactly two words of one syllable.
This is simplicity?
Now look at all that Uncle Sam slang.
The tango and the fox trot both became famous thanks to Arthur Murray; He did his best work in New Jersey shopping centers -- not in Belgium. So how will Belgians ever understand the true sociological meaning of what they're barking into aircraft radios?
Nor have the tango or fox trot exactly captured the popular imagination of dancers in Finland and West Germany. Twist and frug might do the phonetic job better, to judge from the massive reception all our rock groups seem to get every time they play overseas.
Besides, what will a NATO soldier from a distant land make of Sierra? That's strictly a California mountain range these days,
Or golf -- they don't play much of it in Turkey. Or November -- hardly a household word in Madrid.
And what about connotations?
Kilo is a measure of marijuana as often as of meat balls these days. X-rays, we now know, cause cancer. And whiskey has had a rotten reputation for ages.
I am all for NATO working out a system whereby it bombs enemies, not Chicago;
And if NATO's radio operators want to chant "Quebec" at each other -- or try to -- that's fine with me, too.
I just can't imagine a gruff, tough taxi or police dispatcher in Washington, D.C., saying "J-as-in-Juliette."
I just can't use "I-as-in-India" when Ida is not only sweet as apple cider, but a syllable briefer;
And I can't imagine "P-as-in-Papa" if there's no "M-as-in-Mama;" Hurricanes and ships are now coed. It's the least phonetic alphabets can do.
Sign spotted on the front wall of one of those new Metrobuses:
"IT'S THE LAW:
On any Metro vehicle, it is unlawful to: Carry . . . dangerous articals;"
. . . And a little bite of Crow-on-Rye:
The other day, it was reported here that James Lanham Jr., formerly the newsboy at 14th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue NW., died of "lumbar pneumonia."
Dr. Clarence H. Pals, a retired veterinarian who ought to know, led a parade of callers who pointed out that this was anatomically impossible.
The lumbar region is, of course, the lower back.
The lungs don't live anywhere near there.
Should have read "lobar pneumonia," a variety in which small spots appear on the lungs, Dr. Pals surmises.
Munch, munch, munch. . .
Prepare to Graon Department:
Bill Sullivan of Silver Spring has a friend who teaches high school English. Recently, the friend's class was assigned to define some obscure words.
Here's some of the damage:
Flora and fauna; "nightclub strippers."
Brouhaha: "a German beer that makes you laugh."
Alimentary canal: "even older than the C & O, but no mules."