When words weren’t cheap

“Brevity is the soul of telegraphy” advised Nelson E. Ross in his guide, How to Write Telegrams Properly, and telegrams, in their heyday, apparently traveled by the millions. As Ross noted—in 1928—”If you are alive to the need of making every minute count in this modern, high speed age,” then a telegram was just the thing.

“Two of the fundamental merits of the telegram are that it annihilates distance and commands immediate attention,” wrote Ross, but, as you had to pay by the word, concision counted, making telegrams a kind of 19th-century hybrid of Twitter and e-mail.

Alas, the telegram will soon breathe its last (though you may be surprised, as I was, to learn that it was a technology in play still in the 21st century). According to this article from the BBC:

Next month, the last telegram in the world will be sent when India’s state-owned telecom company shuts its telegraph service.

The article also notes, however, that “telegraphese,” or the art of “saying as much as possible in the fewest words,” lives on indeed in Twitter.


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