New Names for Old Letters
From The Emma Gees by Herbert W. McBride, Captain U.S.A., Late Twenty-First Canadian Battalion, 1918
When reading messages sent by any "visual" method of signalling, such as flags, heliograph or lamp, it is necessary for the receiver to keep his eyes steadily fixed upon the sender, probably using binoculars or telescope, which makes it difficult, if not impossible, for him to write down each letter as it comes, and as this is absolutely required in military work, where nearly everything is in code or cipher, the services of a second man are needed to write down the letters as the first calls them off.
As many of the letters of the alphabet have sounds more or less similar, such as "S" and "F", "M" and "N" and "D" and "T", many mistakes have occurred. Therefore, the ingenuity of the signaller was called upon to invent names for certain of the letters most commonly confused. Below is a list of the ones which are now officially recognized:
- A pronounced ack
- B – beer
- D – don
- M – emma
- P – pip
- S – esses
- T – tock
- V – vic
- Z – zed
The last is, of course, the usual pronunciation of this letter in England and Canada, but, as it may be unfamiliar to some readers, I have included it.
After a short time all soldiers get the habit of using these designations in ordinary conversation. For instance, one will say: "I'm going over to 'esses-pip seven,'" meaning "Supporting Point No. 7" or, in stating the time for any event, "ack-emma" is A.M. and "pip-emma" P.M.
As the first ten letters of the alphabet are also used to represent numerals in certain methods of signalling, some peculiar combinations occur, as, for instance,: "N-ack-beer" meaning trench "N-12," or "O-don" or "O-4."
"Ack-pip-emma" is the Assistant Provost Marshall whom everybody hates, while just "pip-emma" is the Paymaster, who is always welcome.
Thus the Machine Gunner is an "Emma Gee" throughout the army.
Lieutenant Eric Costin operating a wireless telegraph apparatus; 29 August, 1911.
Source: Toronto Public Library Digital Archive.