Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

Describing a stranger — and the NATO Phonetic Alphabet

with 3 comments

I hate to be asked a question that I know will be asked, so I try to forestall such questions. For example, as I approach the USPS service window to mail a package, I immediately say, “Nothing perishable, liquid, fragile, or potentially hazardous. No insurance or proof of delivery,” and then state whether I want it sent First Class or Priority Mail (to forestall the question, “When do you want it to get there?”). I say the last even when the package is clearly stamped “First Class” or “Priority,” because the question will come anyway if I don’t prevent it.

Now imagine you’ve been sitting outside the café, drinking your coffee, when a guy knocks a woman over, grabs her purse, and runs away. A cop shows up and comes over to you as a witness. A little alphabetic checklist can be used to provide a description without having to wait for the (otherwise inevitable) questions.

Checklist for describing a person

  • A – approximate age
  • B – build (estimated height, stocky, thin, beefy, muscular, fat, etc.)
  • C – clothing (shoes, pants, shirt, jacket or coat, scarf, hat, gloves)
  • D – distinguishing marks (tattoos, acne, scar, mole, birthmark, sunburn, freckles)
  • E – ethnicity. (Also, eye color if you saw it)
  • F – face (shape, moustache or beard (and color), type of nose, heavy/light eyebrows)
  • G – gait (does he have a limp? (which leg?) long strides, etc.)
  • G – gender
  • G – glasses
  • H – hair (color, cut, length)
  • I – items (was he carrying anything? cane, book, briefcase, package, etc.)

If you memorize that (Anki is a big help), you can practice using it as you ride the subway or the bus or sit in front of the café: look at a stranger, look away, and run through the checklist to see how many you get. Try using the method to describe to your partner someone you saw during the day. Practice daily and it soon will become second nature.

The list comes from a good mystery I’m currently reading: Visibility, by Boris Starling.

NATO Phonetic Alphabet

The NATO Phonetic Alphabet is another good thing to know that you can quickly learn with a little practice (and again Anki is a big help). Both how to describe a person and the NATO Phonetic Alphabet would be good to teach your children.

One big advantage of using the NATO Phonetic Alphabet — for example, in spelling out a tracking number over the phone — is that the person listening is more likely to recognize these standard letter names than letter names you make up on the fly. Moreover, these names have been carefully selected so that no two sound close. (The spellings “Alfa” and “Juliett” are to ensure correct pronunciation by speakers whose native language is not English.)

A – Alfa
B – Bravo
C – Charlie
D – Delta
E – Echo
F – Foxtrot
G – Golf
H – Hotel
I – India
J – Juliett
K – Kilo
L – Lima
M – Mike
N – November
O – Oscar
P – Papa
Q – Quebec
R – Romeo
S – Sierra
T – Tango
U – Uniform
V – Victor
W – Whiskey
X – X-ray
Y – Yankee
Z – Zulu
0 – zero
1 – one
2 – two
3 – tree
4 – fower
5 – fife
6 – six
7 – seven
8 – eight
9 – niner

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Written by Leisureguy

15 September 2007 at 10:19 am

Posted in Books, Daily life, Education

3 Responses

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  1. Okay, wait a minute – instead of sitting at the cafe reciting the alphabet to yourself, why aren’t you chasing the guy to get my purse back? I love that purse! It’s my favorite one!


    the wife

    15 September 2007 at 12:06 pm

  2. How about G for gender too?


    Linda McConnell

    16 September 2007 at 6:44 pm

  3. Good one. Edited list…



    16 September 2007 at 6:50 pm

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