Scots telegram

I hear it’s still possible to send a telegram in Scotland. In fact, one rural family whose father was sick in a hospital in Edinburgh sent their son to check up on him. As soon as he found out anything he was to send a wire, “and remember, ten words are as cheap as one.”

The next day this telegram arrived: “Father dead. Services tomorrow. Weather fine. Aberdeen one, Hearts nil.”

I was a bike messenger for over 7 years and at one of the companies I worked for we delivered Western Union telegrams. We didn’t do a whole lot of them, about 3 a month.

I think I posted this once before in another thread, but I’ll repeat my anecdote.

In the year 1986, I attempted to have a telegram delivered to my girlfriend at the time (one of those silly things lovers do), and so I contacted Western Union and asked them to deliver it. The Western Union person asked me the address and telephone number of the person receiving the telegram, and then a Western Union employee called her and read my message to her on the phone. Which I thought did not really fit the old-fashioned definition of telegram that I had in mind when I placed my order.

I would like to challenge Western Union’s self-serving definition of a telegram as “a message delivered directly to the recipient.” This definition covers delivery of a hand-written mash note by a friend, servant or messenger. It is so broad as to be meaningless.

If we drag out Webster’s, we get a definition of “telegram”: a message delivered by telegraph. “Telegraph” gets us a vague definition of an apparatus used to communicate betweeen distant points (maybe vague enough to support Western Union, but what “apparatus” is Western Union using–is air delivery an “apparatus?”). But the definition goes on to discuss indicator, type-printing and symbol-printing apparatus, using Morse Code or other symbolic electronic language, certainly more in line with the core meaning of telegraph.

I think Western Union is retaining the name “telegram” for nostalgia’s sake, but that what it is doing is delivering messages, not telegrams. Without using electronic language and telegraph wires, it’s no longer a telegram (despite the fact that they retain the flimsy paper and the erratic typing style, again for nostalgia’s sake).

Therefore, I think the right answer is that you can no longer send a true telegram; you can only send a novelty message that looks like one.

And I see on preview that Arnold Winkelried has similar feelings. ::oooh, great minds…::

AAAAAK! I got so excited to be posting under Arnold that I not only got a bad smilie attack but I screwed up my code!! Here’s the link, and now I really need an embarrased smilie.:o

Thanks for clarifying this. So no Morse code is involved, and in printing the message they use a funky font, possibly scanned from the actual text of telegrams sent in the olden days.

Of course, e-mail is the “telegram” of the 21st century. And you don’t have to wait over a weekend for it to be delivered (unless you have a funky e-mail server or something). (And yes, I am paid for every time I use the word “funky”. :D)

Thanks, Arnold, for your anecdote. I read a story once where someone was murdered by a bogus “telegram” read over the phone. The recipient, who apparently had a history of heart problems, received a call where the caller said the recipient’s parents had both been killed in an accident. The recipient dropped dead.

While I’m on a roll, a story by Lawrence Block called “Collecting Ackermans” (1977), about a serial killer whose victims have only their last name in common, features a scene where the murderer is trying to get into a woman’s apartment by claiming he has a singing telegram to deliver. The suspicious woman responds firmly that Western Union ended its singing-telegram service some years ago (which doesn’t seem true, based on this staff report). When he insists that all he knows is that he’s supposed to sing the telegram, she offers to have him sing it through the closed door. He refuses and goes away, and she’s safe… until the next day, when she’s on her way home from the grocery store and he pulls her into an alley and strangles her while singing “Happy Birthday to You”.

Honest, I didn’t start out intending for this post to be so macabre!! :wink:

Ken’s mailbag/staff report article fails to address the single most important, burning issue with modern telegrams.


Do they still end sentences with =STOP= ? (I don’t know how many old jokes on Warner Brothers cartoons rely on this!)

I drove a taxi in a small western town nearly thirty years ago, and we often delivered telegrams. The black-edged ones were called, um, “death telegrams”, I think. We were required to wait while the recipient opened them, and inquire whether they were going to be OK. If they said yeah (they always did), we bugged.

Hey, RM. Good thing you never got asked to “sing” one of those. :eek:
(Old Joke)
[angry recipient] “…I said SING THE TELEGRAM!”
[RM, sheepishly]DaDa,DaDADADA,DAT-Your MOM is dead…[RM bugging out]