At the turn of the 20th Century, in the year 1900 there were 63 million telegrams that were sent that year. By 1910 that figure had grown to 73 million telegrams being sent each year. During those times this was the equivalent of sending a text message, as this was the fastest form of written communication. Sending telegrams quickly became commonplace in the early 1900s, indeed the most common form of communicating during that time.

Sending a telegram was relatively quick and certainly affordable, with cost based on the number of words used in the message. With limited space to write out a message, and trying to save on costs, customers came up with brief phrases using abbreviated English in their messages.

Cost of Sending a Telegram

In Great Britain during the early 1900s, the cost of sending a telegram started at 6d for every nine words, which would be the equivalent of £2.75 today. For every additional word they would add on a penny, which is 45p in value today. One telegraph company in the United States charged by how many words were in the message and only allowed up to 15 characters in a word for messages written in plain English. For a message written in code they only allowed 10 characters per word.

Methods of Shortening Words

The term “Telegraphese” evolved to describe the ways people used to shorten their words and messages. They needed to condense everything as much as possible to limit the number of words used in their message. For example “STOP” was used to convey a full stop character.

Messages that were uncoded and sent through undersea cables used a style of messaging called “Cablese.” Reporters for wire services were stationed all over the world and used Cablese to send their news stories. Try using some the code in the table for your telegram greeting and direct your recipient to this post to decipher.

Some sample Cablese code:
bun: bulletin clup: close up or clear up
95: urgent et: and
73: cheers ex: from
88: hugs-and-kisses gm: good morning
pix: pictures gaft: good afternoon
sap: sappest or asap ga: go ahead
tnx: thanks ii: OK or will do

People usually used plain English in telegram messages to other people, but condensed their message down to simple wording, only writing what was essential in order to keep costs down. So if someone wanted to say, “I will be waiting for you at half past six this evening in front of the theatre” they would condense it to, “MEET 630PM FRONT OF THEATRE.”

How Telegrams Were Sent

People would first write out their message using as few words as possible. They would go to their local Telegraph Office or Post Office and fill in the form for a telegram. The clerk would count the words and he would determine the charge. The message would be transmitted to the office at that destination.

In the United States the top line of the telegram was called the “check.” This told the clerk the location where the telegram originated, what class of service had been paid for, the number of words in the message, and the name and address of the person who was to receive the telegram. In the U.S. the telegram form was configured to be folded to fit perfectly in an envelope with the window showing the address it was being sent to. In Great Britain the telegram form was folded and sealed shut with a stamp, keeping the message private.

Try writing your message out using abbreviated English and send it off with one of our designs from the Telegram Gallery and try not to use prepositions and/or articles that would change the meaning of your message. Do not be concerned about creating grammatically correct sentences.

The Telegram Clerk


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