RENDITION = reply by private code immediately
November 17, 2007 6:04 PM   Subscribe


I can account for | telegraph according to private code | you are sending too freely | very considerable expenses | must have better security

The development of commercial telegraph codes can be explained by the need to compress messages into the shortest possible form at a time when an international cable could cost 25 cents per word. Thus, codebooks matched stock phrases and sentences of use to businessmen with random dictionary words. Although many of these codebooks were commercially published and widely available, some businesses created their own codebooks for greater customization and secrecy.

The above message was (laboriously) encoded using the ABC Universal Commercial Electric Telegraph Code, published in 1873. (See the "SEPTUAGINT" link)
posted by Horace Rumpole (18 comments total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
...- . .-. -.-- -. .. -.-. . .--. --- ... -
posted by growabrain at 6:11 PM on November 17, 2007

posted by synaesthetichaze at 6:14 PM on November 17, 2007

I wish I could say that I had received a telegram at some point in my life, but alas, no.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 6:20 PM on November 17, 2007

-.-- -.-- --..
posted by psmith at 6:28 PM on November 17, 2007

posted by eriko at 6:30 PM on November 17, 2007

back atcha, item! (that is, check yr mail).
posted by flapjax at midnite at 6:43 PM on November 17, 2007

Wow. I found an old code book the other day. Filled with wild and wacky stuff like:

BOOKSHELF: Bad news, your has daughter died at sea.*

Lots of stuff dealing with death, in fact.

*Not an actual example, I don't have the book handy right now. But the code words generally have nothing to do with their meaning.
posted by uncanny hengeman at 6:45 PM on November 17, 2007

DRINKING THE COCKADE = succumbing to homosexual agenda
posted by DU at 6:46 PM on November 17, 2007 [1 favorite]

And hey kids, here's your Morse code translator! And you can hear it, too, which is super cool.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 6:48 PM on November 17, 2007 [2 favorites]

But we still don't know what the fuck we're talking about half the time!
posted by flapjax at midnite at 7:23 PM on November 17, 2007

I've received a cryptic morse code transmission of the letter "Y", repeated two times, followed closely by the letter "Z". My first receipt of this cryptic message was in my early teens, and not six months has passed in the intervening decades that the message hasn't repeated itself to me.
posted by jonson at 7:27 PM on November 17, 2007

posted by rob511 at 7:38 PM on November 17, 2007

Okay, kids, if we're talking telegrams, we're not sending morse, we're sending Baudot code, using frequency shift keying.

You'd feed the transmitters with paper tape. You'd start a message with ZCZC, because that would punch all five holes, so the reciever could check that the tape you just got was valid. You'd end with NNNN, the four single dots was an easy mark for the operator to spot. There were lots of prosigns, the most famous was probably WRU -- Who aRe yoU? -- that would trigger an automated response on the Telex networks. A WRU at the start of a message helped ensure that you were talking to the right person, at the end, that you were *still* talking to the right person.

In testing, you'd send RYRYRYRY, which made a very distinguishable sound over the wire or over the air. In the early years, you'd send at a staggering 45.45 baud, but that was quickly stepped up to 75 baud. You can hear 75 baud 850hz shift RTTY traffic today on the shortwave, most of it is encrypted. Hams us 45.45 baud, 170hz shift, because, well, they're hams, that's what they do.

The telex networks were amazing beasts -- they connected the world. Slowly, but if you knew the right station code, and could afford the $3 a word (in 2006 dollars), you could get a message almost anywhere. For decades, the best way to get ahold of any diplomat, anywhere in the world, was Telex and RTTY.

Now we have ESMTP.

Where did we screw up?
posted by eriko at 7:59 PM on November 17, 2007 [7 favorites]

Great comment, Eriko, you brought back some fond memories. My very first job (back in 1976) was as a Telex operator. Like you said, once you knew the telex number, you could contact anyone. (And it didn't cost me the $3 per minute, because our company's Telex bill was so many pages long anyway, no one bothered to check every item on it.) You could even "chat" in real time if someone happened to be by their Telex machine at the time.
posted by Oriole Adams at 9:46 PM on November 17, 2007

Sort of irrelevant, but I remember being mildy surprised as a Boy Scout to discover that the word "FUCK" has a rather enjoyable pattern to it when spelled in Morse Code:

..-. / ..- / -.-. / -.-

letter 1 is the same as 2, with an extra dot, and letter 3 is the same as 4, again with an extra dot, making it surprisingly rhythmically enjoyable to play on the drums, and easy to remember if you're a passive aggressive desk-drummer who's been told to stop.
posted by Jon Mitchell at 10:40 PM on November 17, 2007 [1 favorite]

"Snowy rosetteing south radius and arson misdirects to the numerous ..."

Pfft. I don't need to read some crusty old book to see this stuff, yammering on about mining operations or shipments of jute - I get emails like this every day, delivered right to my inbox, offering to refinance my mortgage at unheard-of rates, or to make my penis larger and/or stiffer.

Now that's progress!
posted by kcds at 4:53 AM on November 18, 2007

Hey, my email inbox is filled with spam about shipments of jute. But I'd like to hear more of this stuff about larger penises. I have enough jute.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 5:25 AM on November 18, 2007

Obligatory: How to Write Telegrams Properly

Okay now, hands up, anyone who has ever needed to use that information.

*waves hand wildly*
posted by eritain at 8:55 PM on November 19, 2007

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