Why do pilots say "niner"?

…Instead of “nine”? Where’d it come from?


Because “nine” and “five” sound too much alike, especially on a noisy or low fidelity transmission.

I think it’s to reduce the chance of confusion between ‘five’ and ‘nine’ which may sound similar under certain conditions.

This is at a bit of a tangent, but if British Army gunners are doing a countdown before making something go bang, they actually leave out Five in case anyone mishears it as “Fire”.


One = “Wun”
Two = “Too”
Three = “Tree”
Four = “Fow-er”
Five = “Fife”
Six = “Six”
Seven = “Sev-en”
Eight = “Ait”
Nine = “Nin-er”
Zero = “Zee-ro”

Professional pilot type here …

That’s all correct, but with modern radios the “official” pronunciations are pretty much obsolete. Many controllers & pilots still use niner much of the time, but the other exaggerated pronunciations are rarely heard.

I recall one controller at, I think, Detroit, who liked to use the perfect letter-of-the-law pronunciations. He was very hard to understand because of it. I suspect he was in a bit of a tug-of-war with his supervisor over something and was being super-perfect by-the-book to prove something to somebody.

I learned that three and five were pronounced w/ two sylables “tha-ree” and fi-yuv". The word “repeat” was not used in normal transmission as it once meant “fire again” when transmitted from a spotter to an artillery or mortar crew. If you wanted someone to repeat a transmission you said “say again your last”.
As LSLGuy points out, these are rarely used anymore w/ the possible exception of “niner”. Actually niner was in place of nine to avoid confusing it with one, as I learned it.

I thought it was used to disguish 9 from the nien(sp/) - the German word for no.


Yeah, I always thought the source of confusion was ‘none’, which might be another term for zero. Certainly wouldn’t a thought of ‘five’

Always learning something new here at the dope!!

Mildly off topic, but:

During a test of New Orleans’ emergency systems before Katrina hit, a hospital was told to prepare forty-nine serious injury beds for the people who would pretend being wounded (the situation was a bomb exploding during a sports game). Unfortunantly, the nurse confused ‘prepare for forty-nine serious injuries’ with ‘prepare for forty non-serious injuries’. Good thing it wasn’t a real bomb.

Seems to me (and I could be wrong) that niner is more likely to be used if it’s the final number in the sequence. Any truth to that?

Why** still ** used?

Simple explanation: It’s friggin’ cool. :cool:

It’s as cool as “10-4, Good Buddy”. And the double knits that went with that. :smiley:

Early phone operators had a similar pronunciation scheme, except they said “ni-yun”:

“wun”, “two”, “thuh-ree”, “fow-er”, “fiyiv”, “six”,“sev-un”, “ait”, “ni-yun”.

Sad to say, given the maddening ineffectiveness of voice activated response systems, it seems these pronunciations are still needed sometimes.

Note “Québec” is definitely NOT how it would be said in French.

True. But as long as the point is to convey a “Q-word”, it matters not.

It’s not that far off. In formal speech, in Canadian french, you’d say “Kay-beck”: Long-a sound for the “é”, stress on the second syllable. But informally, that sharp “é” is often softened, as the “ing” in “walking” is in english (to “walkin” or even “wokkin”). It sounds a lot like “Kebbeck” when that happens.

When I “Quebec” in radiotelephony, I use the anglo pronunciation, of “Kebeck”. It’s rare to hear “Kwuh-beck”, or any variant on the “Kw” sound. At least in the air-band contexts I’m used to. (Civilian and military air-to-air and air-to-ground in central Canada in the English language.)

Because it lets people know we’re pilots. :stuck_out_tongue:

[size=1]How do you know there’s a pilot at your party? He’ll tell you!

Not in my experience.

In Australia we have large areas of the country where the only low-level radio service is by HF radio which has notoriously bad readability at times. It is really very important to use the correct pronunciation on HF, not so important on VHF, but it can still be the difference between crashing and not.


ATC: “QANTAS ten seventy-four descend to nine thousand”
QF1074: “Descend to five thousand, QANTAS ten seventy-four”

QANTAS 1074 then proceeds to bust their cleared level and collides with another aircraft. If ATC had said “niner thousand”, QF1074 wouldn’t have misheard the clearance, and if QF1074 had read back “fife thousand”, ATC would have picked up the mistake.

What’s the difference between a pilot and God?

God doesn’t think he’s a pilot!