About This Word

Whiskey Tango Foxtrot

or whiskey tango foxtrot

[(h)wis-kee tang-oh foks-trot]

What does Whiskey Tango Foxtrot mean?

Based on letters of the military phonetic alphabet, Whiskey Tango Foxtrot is a euphemistic substitution for what the fuck or WTF.

Whiskey Tango Foxtrot

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Where does Whiskey Tango Foxtrot come from?

The phrase Whiskey Tango Foxtrot comes from the NATO phonetic alphabet, also known as the ICAO (International Civil Aviation Organization), a universal phonetic alphabet that has been used by militaries across the world since the mid-20th century. In order to account for both background noise and the fact that some letters can sound alike (M/N, B/P, etc.), the NATO phonetic alphabet substitutes every letter for a distinct word. The word for W is Whiskey, T is Tango, and F is Foxtrot.

The euphemism WTF, which stands for “what the fuck?” has been used since at least 1985, where it appeared in a Usenet post by Jay Fields. By the end of the 1980s, the military-style Whiskey Tango Foxtrot appeared online as a variation of this euphemism. It’s unclear if this version originated within the US military, but it was certainly adopted by them somewhere along the line.

Probably because it was a sly way to sneak in a cuss word without censors realizing it, Whiskey Tango Foxtrot made a few notable appearances in pop culture: serving as the title of Ashley Gilbertson’s 2007 Iraq war memoir, a 2011 Scandal episode, and a 2013 NCIS episode. However, the phrase truly hit the mainstream with the 2016 release of the comedy film Whiskey Tango Foxtrot, starring Tina Fey.

Who uses Whiskey Tango Foxtrot?

Since the phrase uses the NATO phonetic alphabet, it has traditionally been used in the military. However, that has changed especially since the release of the Tina Fey movie, and it is now widely used as an informal, playful, and elaborated euphemism for WTF. Like what the fuck or WTF, it can be used to convey surprise, disgust, shock, exasperation, or other similar reactions.

Since Foxtrot (in this context, though not in general) stands for the word fuck, the phrase Whiskey Tango Foxtrot should probably be avoided in polite company, particularly since more and more people are familiar with its cleverly encoded meaning.

For example

Whiskey Tango Foxtrot moment of the episode. #Supernatural #WaywardSisters

@ExcentricOldBat, January 2018

The reaction at the Pentagon, said one official, was “Whiskey Tango Foxtrot” — military slang for an expression of shock.

Peter Baker, The New York Times, December 2009

What the hell?! 5k topped up credit wise but not for data and now I’m wiped out?! Whiskey tango foxtrot

@chefjeff3000, January 2018v

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