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August 3, 2009 8:10 PM   Subscribe

The wonderful Ben Schott (previously on Mefi) has posted an awesome excerpt from the 1891 Anglo-American Telegraphic Code, showing how folks got around (economically-induced) character and word limitations over a century before Twitter. Too wacky to be true? Gleam tus!
posted by ericbop (36 comments total) 13 users marked this as a favorite

 
See also this previous MeFi post about commercial telegraphic codes. I love this stuff!
posted by barnacles at 8:14 PM on August 3, 2009


NYT paywall ...
posted by aeschenkarnos at 8:29 PM on August 3, 2009


ROOTY: I hereby offer my resignation and request its acceptance.

Yep. That's twitter all right.
posted by Fiasco da Gama at 8:30 PM on August 3, 2009


Ben Schott, the author of Schott’s Miscellany 2009

Damn it, he's got an updated/new version? Guess I'll have to go buy it.

Also, he has the best name ever.
posted by CitrusFreak12 at 8:36 PM on August 3, 2009


One boggles (or perhaps is merely incredulous) at the culture of 1891 when these phrases, for example, were so likely to be needed that they lent themselves to ready-made codes:

Apse: The sheriff will not arrest
Educt: A large amount has been embezzled (by)
Emication: The epidemic has broken out again
Insidiator: How much is your life insured for
Mannite: The market should be manipulated

and

Wreakful: Writ of execution
posted by darkstar at 9:00 PM on August 3, 2009


Heh. It's like writing a 1930s detective story.

WEEPFUL CASSOCKED DECEMVIR RUSSET ILLITERAL LAMBASTIVE GEYSER JUGULAR BLOCKISH
posted by Fiasco da Gama at 9:09 PM on August 3, 2009


Backtail. Releaser. Insidiator.

Butthatwillneverbeasawesomeasthatmorsecodethread.
posted by Askiba at 9:10 PM on August 3, 2009


Hyperbole: Wonderfully awesomely wacky!
posted by longsleeves at 9:11 PM on August 3, 2009


I couldn't help notice the similarities between “The Anglo-American Telegraphic Code” and current day Web and MetaFilter-specific terminology...

AERIAL or LAMBATIVE = IANAL

ALAND = adland (for dabitch)

ALOOFNESS or DECEMVIR = .

ARBORIST = FoxNews

BLACKTAIL or MODISHLY = FAIL

CERVICIED = Birther

CRISP = Hurf Durf (kind of)

DESERTLESS = surely this...

ENCUMBERED = DTMFA

ENRINGED = OMG!

ESPECIALLY = don't try this at home (for asavage)

HORTYARD = WTF!

HYPOZOIC = flagged

NOTED - asshat

RELEASER or ROSELITE = This will not wendell.

ROOTY = flameout!

TITMOUSE = meetup!
posted by wendell at 9:12 PM on August 3, 2009 [7 favorites]


okay, now I'm getting silly...

ANTALGIC = you cannot have a pony

BLOCKISH = AIG

CAPRIPED = Filet O Fish Friday

CASSOCKED + CAUSSON = Givewell

CEPA = NYTimes

ROSELITE = Borg (how did I not notice that the first time?)
posted by wendell at 9:23 PM on August 3, 2009 [1 favorite]


LITHOTYPE = Too long
SPEAR = Have not read the statement
posted by gubo at 9:46 PM on August 3, 2009 [7 favorites]


What's really unfair about twitter is that you can use Unicode characters, so Chinese people get in like 4 or 5 times as many words as English speakers do. If one were to use Arithmetic Coding people could get between 6 and 16 English letters in a single unicode codepoint.
posted by delmoi at 10:17 PM on August 3, 2009


Everything depends on the ability with which it is handled.

His absence is rather mysterious.

Has met with a trifling accident.

You will accomplish but little.


It's like a cyper written by Edward Gorey.
posted by lekvar at 10:22 PM on August 3, 2009 [7 favorites]


Registration required.
posted by w0mbat at 10:31 PM on August 3, 2009


Apse: The sheriff will not arrest
Educt: A large amount has been embezzled (by)
Emication: The epidemic has broken out again
Insidiator: How much is your life insured for
Mannite: The market should be manipulated

and

Wreakful: Writ of execution


(scribbles down idea for experimental Epistolary novel)
posted by The Whelk at 11:22 PM on August 3, 2009


Heehee! I see the book was owned by A. Wendell Jackson.
Also interesting are the numeral codewords:
Frigid - 7¼
Frigidity - 7½
Frigidness - 8
Frigorfic - 8¼
posted by tellurian at 11:52 PM on August 3, 2009


darkstar: According to Kahn's Codebreakers the dual purpose of these codes was not only to save bandwidth and money, it was also so that news and business services could scoop each other by obfuscating messages.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 12:24 AM on August 4, 2009


Releaser. Aloofness. Cuish. Mightily. Expidite. Commiter. Hyphen. Phantasic. Cinnamie.
posted by Grimgrin at 12:32 AM on August 4, 2009


Releaser. Aloofness. Cuish...

Your hovercraft is full of eels? Send three-and-fourpence?
posted by raygirvan at 1:52 AM on August 4, 2009 [3 favorites]


Awesome Excerpt limited to 140 words.
posted by davemee at 2:35 AM on August 4, 2009


May I just say that "rutaceous" should actually be adopted forthwith as a standard hotelier term for a quality room, as in "This room is quite rutaceous, Sir".

[Rutaceous: Reserve for my wife and self good suite of rooms].

And "rooty" is an awesome way to telegraph your resignation. If a more compact way of informing your employer to go f*ck themselves has been devised, I've yet to see it.
posted by MuffinMan at 4:00 AM on August 4, 2009 [2 favorites]


I shall henceforth accept theatre invitations by texting TITMOUSE to people. It will be good to have a justification for doing this, finally.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 4:16 AM on August 4, 2009 [4 favorites]


May I humbly suggest people purchase the excellent book The Victorian Internet by Tom Standage? Because it's chock full of this sort of interesting information, presented in world-class form. (As his other books do as well.)
posted by jscott at 5:23 AM on August 4, 2009 [1 favorite]


darkstar: I'm a little confused about what a writ of execution tells you about 1891 culture. I'm actually quite certain that if this were invented today, we would still have a codeword for it. Perhaps you are mistaken about what exactly it is?
posted by jock@law at 5:35 AM on August 4, 2009


Toftman trigyn snakes. Cade!
posted by evisceratordeath at 5:51 AM on August 4, 2009


Memes collide!

Also, a link to the full book at Google Books.
posted by 1f2frfbf at 6:06 AM on August 4, 2009 [2 favorites]


we would still have a codeword for [writ of execution]

I think there is a lot of confusion on whether these are codewords for secrecy or for length. The original post says they were for length, so it would make you wonder why changing a 16-letter infrequently used phrase to a 9-letter codeword would be worthwhile.
posted by smackfu at 6:26 AM on August 4, 2009 [1 favorite]


Surely the portmanteau should be twitpunk.
posted by adamdschneider at 7:24 AM on August 4, 2009


Ooh, or how about tweempunk?
posted by adamdschneider at 7:26 AM on August 4, 2009


Ben Schott as a cottage industry. I never quite thought that would happen when I picked up his first Miscellany lo those many years ago.
posted by blucevalo at 8:07 AM on August 4, 2009


There's discussion of this at Language Log, where Nick Lamb says:
This material seems old enough to be out of copyright. If so, Project Gutenberg might be interested in transcribing one or more of these books, or they may have done so already. And again, if so, it would be available as somewhat formatted ASCII suitable for trivial processing into an amusing dictionary of the kind conceived by Mark.

I'm not interested in manually typing tens of thousands of these definitions, but if that donkey work is done and someone points me at it I'm quite happy to knock together a web site where visitors can enter words or sequences thereof and get them translated. I already have hosting for various other projects, and it's no more than an hour's work I should think. A suitable contact email address is used to post this comment.
posted by languagehat at 8:08 AM on August 4, 2009


I think there is a lot of confusion on whether these are codewords for secrecy or for length. The original post says they were for length, so it would make you wonder why changing a 16-letter infrequently used phrase to a 9-letter codeword would be worthwhile.

I would think word count. Just 1 word as opposed to three. This would seem also why they used real words instead of just abbreviating or using some sort of more abstract code.
posted by Authorized User at 8:48 AM on August 4, 2009


From the scanned book:
The expense and publicity entailed in the use of the telegraph are recognized as serious obstacles. This work will cause great diminution of these, in many cases practically eliminating them. Embracing as it does, social and domestic, as well as business and miscellaneous subjects, a large proportion of correspondence which is now conducted through the mails, can, through its medium, at slight expense, be conducted, confidentially and quickly, by telegraph. (Emphasis in original.)
Cryptographically, it's snake oil even for the 1890s. But probably good enough to avoid casual interception.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 9:20 AM on August 4, 2009


Anyone got any evidence of these actually being put to regular use? I notice that the Google Book is a Third edition so it suggests that people liked the idea, but to actually put it to use seems incredibly unwieldy. I suspect it was the Great Gag Gift of Christmas 1891.
posted by yoink at 9:27 AM on August 4, 2009


I think there is a lot of confusion on whether these are codewords for secrecy or for length. The original post says they were for length, so it would make you wonder why changing a 16-letter infrequently used phrase to a 9-letter codeword would be worthwhile.

I would think word count. Just 1 word as opposed to three. This would seem also why they used real words instead of just abbreviating or using some sort of more abstract code.


covered in the first paragraph of the NYT article: During the late 19th-century telegraphy boom, some carriers charged extra for words longer than 15 characters and for messages longer than 10 words. Thus, the cheapest telegram was often limited to 150 characters


Anyone got any evidence of these actually being put to regular use?

The company I work for has been around for 150 years, and used to do its business via telegraph. We were cleaning out a storage area one day in one of the older buildings and found a copy of the Code book that the company had come up with that included all of the products that were offered (including options) at that the time. It was a pretty cool find.
posted by ArgentCorvid at 9:45 AM on August 4, 2009


Tweenspunk?


Oh, very well...
posted by darkstar at 1:34 PM on August 4, 2009


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