Why did telegraph messages SOUND WEIRD STOP?

Whenever I hear or see a telegraph message (in old movies and such) it looks really WEIRD WHY STOP DONT GET STOP

For instance, why no lowercase? (or why not all lowercase, which would be slightly easier to read?) Why use the psychopathic/shouting STOP instead of a period? It should be much easier to telegraph a single period than STOP. Or at least take up less room. evenwithoutpunctuationonecouldread so why bother at all with STOP and other stuff?

You paid by the word. I suppose when reading messages it’s important to know where the period was. It was written as “STOP” to ensure it was visible, not a smudge on the paper.

Telegrams were in Morse Code, which had no shift or case options. When paying by the word, be as terse as possible - no “the”, “and”, etc. unless necessary.

Not sure if there was a charge for the period, but to avoid confusion it was written out - both by sender filling out the form to be sent and by receiving station. (Bad handwriting was not a modern invention…)

Well how would you differentiate between … — … or … — … ?

It’s a signal to noise issue when trying to punctuate in the middle of the telegram. Obviously at the end of the message you wouldn’t need to flag the “stop” though I guess people might have if they didn’t mind paying for it.

Can’t say why they were typed in all caps, though of course Morse code has no way of indicating capitalization. As to STOP and the general stilted style, this came from the billing procedures–there was, as I recall, a flat rate for a certain number of words, after which you were charged by the word. STOP was not counted as a word.

No cite for this; I’m just going from my memory of reading about this sometime. I may be wrong about the per word; may have been per character instead.

I believe the periods kept getting lost during WWI, so the military started using STOP for intramessage full stops. The generally weren’t used at the end of the message. I would guess the rest of the public picked it up from them.

There is no mixed case in Morse Code, so it had to be all upper or lower, or added by the receiver/translator.

Here’s a booklet from 1928 on “How to write telegrams properly” - it has some interesting information. http://www.telegraph-office.com/pages/telegram.html

True enough. But telegraph messages have to be encoded and decoded. Somebody writes the message out on paper, somebody else encodes it, and a third person decodes it by writing (or typing) it back onto paper. And on all three of those steps, periods tend to get lost–not written clearly, or not transmitted, or not written down in the right place by the decoder. STOP is less prone to these errors.

I don’t know if this is done now, what with email and all, but news stories were closed by a bunch of dashes and the numeral “30” and some more dashes.

I don’t know why “30” was used, but it still served the same function I believe, but for a “grand stop,” so to speak.

not only might a period be incorrectly interpreted in the transcribed telegram but the number of morse code elements to send STOP is only double that of a period. so it is different from what a transcribed telegram appears.

morse code has no upper and lower case letters. even early teleprinting had no upper and lower case letters.

No one is really sure where the "-- 30 – " came from, but some more plausible explanations are:

  1. Originally, stories ended with XXX. In Roman numerals, that translates to “30.”
  2. It’s telegrapher’s shorthand for “end.”
  3. The first new telegraph message had 30 words in it, so ended with the word count.

#2 seems the most likely; there is evidence that reporters used the Phillips Code to abbreviate messages. If you scroll down to “Wire Signals,” “30” indicates “end of message.”

A period (full stop) in Morse is · — · — · —, longer than any letter code (a single dot wold be the letter e). Although Morse does allow for some punctuation marks, they are all rather long and complex and, I suspect it was not much used, and, as a consequence, Morse operators were probably not so practiced in sending and decoding it as they were with letters and numbers. You might as well just spell out STOP for ease and clarity.

Fascinating! I’m not surprised that money was sent by telegraph, but for some reason, sending flowers does surprise me. Amazon.com is slightly less amazing now than it was a few minutes ago. Big changes seem smaller.

Candy too. I remember candygrams, although I never sent or received one.

If you look at photographic images of old telegrams online, most actually contained periods rather than the word STOP. A year ago I decided to make a convincing-looking telegram to wish my nephew well on his wedding day and reluctantly went with historic accuracy over cinematic assumption.

Another point, though, is that in the later days of telegrams many were dictated (and, often, read out to the recipient) over the phone. Even after phones became common and cheap for local calls, telegrams were often cheaper or more practical for long distance communication. In those circumstances, it is actually easier to say “STOP” than “FULL STOP” or “PERIOD”, especially if, as seems to have been the case, this was an accepted convention (and if you are not Victor Borge). So even if a period was actually used in the printed version of the message, people might still have been inclined to read it out as “STOP”. This is most often what you are hearing in old movies, hearing the message read out rather than seeing the printed telegram. It is probably realistic.

For ultimate conciseness, Gilbert and Sullivan had a word-code in which essential info on profits, attendance, etc., would be sent. It was not so much for secrecy, I don’t think.

Back about 50 years ago I sent one or two telegrams to my parents while I was away at camp. (For reasons that I won’t go into, I was getting a heavily discounted rate, so it was not much more expensive than writing a letter saying that I was doing fine.) I carefully read up on the regulations, and found that you could include punctuation at no extra cost, so I used commas and full stops rather than “COMMA” and “STOP”.

The source of a very amusing scene in the movie Topsy-Turvy.

If they charged by the word (as appear to be the case), wouldn’t people strive to find the longest words possible in their Thesarus? (At least, I know I would) Why not type a whole sentence as one word for that matter, and let the recipient do the decoding? Or maybe this was frowned upon :slight_smile:

There were rules about word length, and about the use of English words: it was something like, use normal English words or made-up words no more than seven letters long. Just yesterday (looking through a library’s special collection) I saw an old code book with tens of thousands of made-up seven-letter words conveying special messages, so “AVEDIGU” might mean “Arriving by train at 9 p.m.” (to make up a random example). Of course, both the sender and receiver would need a copy of the code book, but its use would both save money and give a bit of confidentiality to the message.