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TRAVELERS’ CODE

IN THE early days of telegraph communication, sending a “cable” was priced by word count—and it cost a pretty penny. A ten-word message from New York City to Chicago in the 1920s would have cost 60 cents (equivalent to around $10 in today’s cash).

This gave rise to an art form of succinct messaging, one with its own effects on our culture. A booklet published in 1928, How to Write Telegrams Properly, gave clues on this, including the use of “code books.” Wrote its author Nelson E. Ross, “Every large industry has at least one code especially designed for it.”

This code book lists made-up words from “aagten” through “cervos” to convey specific telegraphic meanings.

Travelers too got into coded telegrams, not for security of communication, but to save money in word counts. For example, as its name implies, Lieber’s Standard Telegraphic Code became widely accepted. In fact, Amazon.com lists two facsimiles of editions, one from 1888, the other from prior to 1923.  My Blair & Co’s Travelers’ Code acknowledges that it was compiled with permission from Lieber’s. It’s undated, but likely comes from the same era.

As an example of its use, the two-word cable “constratum cennamella” to your favorite hotel would take the place of the 28-word message “Will be at your hotel, last of this week or early part of next; please reserve three rooms, bath and parlor, connecting, for self, wife, children and maid.”

You’d hope a prompt reply would be “aplastador,” meaning “Your rooms will be ready for you on arrival.”

Not that either message would be particularly easy to encode or decode. The Blair & Co‘s Travelers’ Code arranges 210 categories alphabetically from Able, Absence and Accident through Representative, Request and Reserve to Weather, Weeks, Writing and Years. You look up the general category, then scan down for the appropriate phrase or code word.

My copy is a particularly bright one, especially considering its likely use and age.

Each category contains wonderful insights into travel in those days. Every page of Blair & Co’s Travelers’ Code is a delight.

“Aankakelen” translates into “Keep the cause of the accident quiet.”

“Achacareis” means “You cannot believe what _____ say(s).”

“Badia” conveys the thought “Passengers are all scattered about.”

Yes, I’ve been on trips like that. ds

© Dennis Simanaitis, SimanaitisSays.com, 2012

One comment on “TRAVELERS’ CODE

  1. Rb
    November 5, 2012

    OMG LOL. STOP. !
    Had no idea. Cool tidbit Dennis. Rb.

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