For those unaware, a “lid” in ham radio speak means someone with very poor operating technique. As in an inept, newbie ham. Or an experienced op that comes across like a newbie. According to multiple ham radio sources, speculation is that the term originated from wired telegraphy. An example:
"I’ve heard that the term was first used in the days of railroad telegraphy. Apparently, some of the operators would put the lid of a tobacco can on the mechanical sounder to make it easier to hear. Veteran operators would derisively call these operators “Lids.”
The problem that I have with this definition is that in ham radio speak, a “lid” is someone with very poor operating technique. Such as someone who sends CW so poorly it is uncopyable, or perhaps uses voice in CW sub-bands, etc. Any ham who would put the lid of a tobacco can on the mechanical sounder to make it easier to hear would:
#1) Be indistinguishable on the air from an operator who didn’t do this. The only way other hams could evaluate them is by what they transmitted. How would another ham know if a certain ham put the lid of a tobacco can on the mechanical sounder to make it easier to hear?
#2) How would putting the lid of a tobacco can on the mechanical sounder to make it easier to hear make someone a bad op? If this made it easier for them to copy CW it would merely improve their efficiency as an operator. A hallmark of a “lid” would be an op who couldn’t copy received CW even if it was sent by another ham with an exceptionally good fist.
Can anyone find when the earliest print cite is of “lid” being used to mean a poor telegraph operator happened? And perhaps an early cite where it is said exactly why such an op was called a “lid”? I have my doubts about this tobacco can lid explanation.
The problem is that all of the “explanations” I can find are like those on that page. They are “good stories”, but none give a solid print citation that backs it up. On another forum a ham radio operator posted that he has some 19th century citations he will dig through, and a relative of his was the president of a large telegraph company, who died as a general in the US Civil War. Now that is the sort of source I am looking for. He pointed out that in the last half of the 19th century, being an experienced telegraph operator was considered a high status and high paying job. As such, surely if they had been in the habit of referring to poor ops as “lids”, some surving print record should still exist.
"Many unknowing land wire telegraphers, hearing the word “amateur” applied to men connected with wireless, regard him as a “ham” or “lid”.
That was written by W. L. Matteson. Multiplex Plant Dept. W. U. Tel. Co. on Oct. 22, 1919. This gentlemen was referring to land wire telegraphers being familiar with the terms “ham” and “lid”. 1919 is still relatively early in the history of wireless. It seems to me unlikely that land wire telegraphers would use jargon that popped up amongst wireless ops first. They’d instead just use their own jargon. As such, likely “ham” and “lid” originated amongst land telegraphers. Somewhat curious that amateur radio operators would call themselves “hams” when the term was a derogatory one amongst land telegraphers.
We may never be able to know the exact reason “why”. Best alternative explanation I see besides “lid” meaning a tin lid is that a poor operator could be said to “put a lid on communications.” With wire telegraphy, time was money. A poor, inefficient operator would send and receive messages slower than an on the ball, experienced op. This explanation has the advantage that there is no logical reason why putting a tin lid on the sounder would necessarily be a “bad thing”. If this improved the ops throughput, then it would make sense this should be encouraged, rather than referred to in a derogatory manner.
As there is no equivalent in 19th century Morse incidental interop communications like Google Groups for Usenet, this may be lost in the mists of time. Land telegraphers, except whoever first used the term, may not have known what the exact origin was. And its damn unlikely whoever coined the term left a surviving written record. Morse code slang terms would be very much like verbal street slang. While we may be able to find examples of very early uses, the very first use and the original sense of that use may be lost. IOW, “LID” in Morse code may be like the phrase “the whole nine yards.” (The latter which has been discussed to death in multiple threads here.)
For those unaware, a “lid” in ham radio speak means someone with very poor operating technique. As in an inept, newbie ham. Or an experienced op that comes across like a newbie. According to multiple ham radio sources, speculation is that the term originated from wired telegraphy.
As a oiece of lore, you might be interested in knowing that before the “Q” signals were adopted there as a system of “Z” signals used in the military.
If someone had a REALLY bad ‘fist’ he would inevitably receive a ‘zob 1,2,3’,which meant " SEND WITH YOUR OTHER FOOT."
zob1 was," your characters are indisinct."
Zob2 was" your characters are poorly spaced."
Zob3 I can’t remember.
BUT sent all together they meant,"grab a handline!