WL HRS A FU.

David Friedman has a blog called Sunday Magazine where he posts “the most interesting articles from the New York Times Sunday Magazine from exactly 100 years ago, with a little bit of commentary or context” (you can read about it here); while it’s great reading, it’s not normally LH material… but From 1890: The First Text Messages is. The article is headlined “FRIENDS THEY NEVER MEET: ACQUAINTANCES MADE BY THE TELEGRAPH KEY. CONFIDENCES EXCHANGED BETWEEN MEN WHO HAVE NEVER SEEN EACH OTHER — THEIR PECULIAR CONVERSATION ABBREVIATIONS,” and David writes “the abbreviations they used seem a lot like the abbreviations used in today’s text messages,” quoting the following passage:

In their conversations telegraphers use a system of abbreviations which enables them to say considerably more in a certain period of time then they otherwise could. Their morning greeting to a friend in a distant city is usually “g. m.,” and the farewell for the evening, “g. n.,” the letters of course standing for good morning and good night. The salutation may be accompanied by an inquiry by one as to the health of the other, which would be expressed thus: “Hw r u ts mng?” And the answer would be: “I’m pty wl; hw r u?” or “I’m nt flg vy wl; fraid I’ve gt t mlaria.”
By the time these courtesies have taken place some early messages have come from the receiving department or from some other wire, and the man before whom they are placed says to his friend many miles away: “Wl hrs a fu; Gol hang ts everlastin grind. I wish I ws rich.” And the other man says: “No rest fo t wickd, min pen,” the last two words indicating that he wants the sender to wait a minute while he adjusts and tests his pen. Presently he clicks out “g a,” meaning “go ahead,” and the day’s work has begun.

He says “I’m not sure what “Wl hrs a fu” is supposed to mean,” and neither am I; any guesses? (Via MetaFilter.)

Comments

  1. “Well, here’s a few”, perhaps? Referring to the early messages mentioned?

  2. Well, here’s a fuckup.

  3. It means, ‘Well, hours of fun’ of course… or maybe not

  4. What Stuart said. Though why you would bother at all with that preliminary “Well” when you’re being so telegraphic is beyond me.

  5. rootlesscosmo says:

    There was a variety of telegram-writing used in business and journalism to keep costs down when Western Union charged by the word: “soonest” for “right away,” “Chicagoward” for “to Chicago.” I’ve encountered this in books from the 1920′s but haven’t been able to track down a systematic account of it. Anyone know more?

  6. I love scrolling down the comments and being able to tell who they’re from before I reach the “Posted by”. I can usually guess that I’m reading a Grumbly comment before his name appears; Rootless, too.
    Oh, and what JMM said.

  7. AJP – was the reference to Grumbly a complete no sequitur, or inspired by the presence of a post from a less cantakerous Stu?

  8. The latter, I bet. I keep telling people that I’m stimulating, not cantankerous, but nobody pays me a damn bit of attention.

  9. Thanks, misunderstood Stu. Moved by your plight, I’m posting the two ns I missed last time.

  10. Stimulating Stu is one of the few I can recognise in advance of the “Posted by”, apart from Rootless. When the writing is upside down and appears during nighttime, I know it’s from NZ Stu.

  11. I think it must be what Stuart suggests, “Well here’s a few.” The following “min pen” / “g.a.” exchange shows that incoming messages need to be relayed from our man to the other (that is why they are speaking, after all), and of course he must warn his friend that he needs to switch from chatter to transcript. Hence the warning.

  12. Graham Asher says:

    ‘Well, hours are full’; fits in with ‘God hang this everlasting grind’.

  13. I wish I had known this when I wrote some episodes in which two telegraph men were notifying each other of the approach of Black Sunday.
    The messages posted here would be less interesting, somehow, if they were 17-year-olds talking about…whatever they talk about. Sometimes the medium isn’t the message; sometimes the message is the message.

  14. “Stimulating Stu” – excellent and appropriate. This is the soubriquet I shall use henceforth to refer to my Northern namesake. Thanks, AJP!

  15. dearieme says:

    WKPD:”The first commercial electrical telegraph ……entered commercial use on the Great Western Railway … from Paddington station to West Drayton on 9 April 1839. John Tawell was apprehended … thought to be the first use of the telegraph to catch a murderer. The message was: A MURDER HAS GUST BEEN COMMITTED AT SALT HILL AND THE SUSPECTED MURDERER WAS SEEN TO TAKE A FIRST CLASS TICKET TO LONDON BY THE TRAIN WHICH LEFT SLOUGH AT 742 PM HE IS IN THE GARB OF A KWAKER WITH A GREAT COAT ON WHICH REACHES NEARLY DOWN TO HIS FEET HE IS IN THE LAST COMPARTMENT OF THE SECOND CLASS COMPARTMENT
    The Cooke-Wheatstone system did not support punctuation, lower case, or the letters J, Q, and Z; hence the misspelling of ‘just’ and ‘Quaker’. ..

  16. Two sisters, one blonde and one brunette, inherit the family ranch. Unfortunately, after just a few years, they are in financial trouble. In order to keep the bank from repossessing the ranch, they need to purchase a bull so that they can breed their own stock.
    The brunette balances their checkbook, then takes their last $600 dollars out west to another ranch where a man has a prize bull for sale. Upon leaving, she tells her sister, “When I get there, if I decide to buy the bull, I’ll contact you to drive out after me and haul it home.”
    The brunette arrives at the man’s ranch, inspects the bull, and decides she does want to buy it. The man tells her that he can sell it for $599, no less. After paying him, she drives to the nearest town to send her sister a telegram to tell her the news. She walks into the telegraph office, and says, “I want to send a telegram to my sister telling her that I’ve bought a bull for our ranch. I need her to hitch the trailer to our pickup truck and drive out here so we can haul it home.”
    The telegraph operator explains that he’ll be glad to help her, then adds, “It’s just 99 cents a word.”
    Well, after paying for the bull, the brunette only has $1 left. She realizes that she’ll only be able to send her sister one word.
    After thinking for a few minutes, she nods, and says, “I want you to send her the word, ‘comfortable.’”
    The telegraph operator shakes his head. “How is she ever going to know that you want her to hitch the trailer to your pickup truck and drive out here to haul that bull back to your ranch if you send her the word, ‘comfortable’?”
    The brunette explains, “My sister’s blonde. She’ll read it very slow.”

  17. Good one.
    I believe I grew up pronouncing that word “comftrable”.

  18. I believe I grew up pronouncing that word “comftrable”.
    I find that’s how I always say it – outside elocution class, that is.

  19. More precisely, in my case, “cumfterbul”.

  20. “Cumftabul” for me, though I am rhotic otherwise. It’s one of those words like library and February.

  21. I’ve always liked “liberry”, untutored though it may sound.
    In Texas, as far as I remember, most people said “Febuary”. Why is it that “February” is so hard to pronounce, when “brunette” is easy ? Is is because of the vowel-roller-coaster effect when “a” follows br+u, in contrast to the vowel-stopping “n” following br+u ? So to speak.

  22. Maybe “Febyooary” arises because the u in February wants to be “yoo” rather than “oo”, perhaps under the influence of January. And “Febryooary” is just too difficult.

  23. You may be right. January should not be permitted to boss other months around like that.

  24. To my untrained ears, most non-formal Zild has liebree and febree, the latter sometimes becoming febyuree.

  25. mollymooly says:

    One of the Economist audio edition readers consistently pronounces “secretary” as /ˈsɛkjʊtri/. It shouldn’t annoy me as much as it does, which in itself annoys me.

  26. executive secretary? execrative secutary?

  27. mollymooly: It shouldn’t annoy me as much as it does, which in itself annoys me.
    This is very up-to-date autological knickers-twistery ! You should be proud of yourself – or annoyed at same if you want to try putting one further fold into your consciousness.

  28. dearieme says:

    Jan-you-ri, Febree, March….

  29. I remember a French travel agent saying Octomberrrr (stress on first syllable). At least that’s what it sounded like to me …

  30. “Did he really think I’d sell myself for his small change? He must think me very uneasy, which, indeed, makes me uneasy.”
         —from the journal of Therem Harth rem ir Estraven

  31. There’s the famous story of Sir Charles Napier sending “peccavi” (=”I have sinned”) when he conquered Sindh. Though I never quite understood the point of it, aside from demonstrating the value of a good classical education.

  32. I never quite understood the point of it
    I wish more of today’s generals made bilingual puns. There’s more point to punning than to bombing people.

  33. The peccavi thing was a myth though, na? Made up by a juornalist with time on his hands to come up with bilingual puns, rather than a general with more important concerns. I am with AJP on its merits, though, regardless of authorship. As someone quite inordinately fond of multilingual puns and related wordplay, “Peccavi” has been my inspiration and yardstick for many years.

  34. John Emerson says:

    There are actually no myths. The common belief that there are myths is unfounded.

  35. There is a common belief that “truth” is a myth. But if there are no myths, “truth” must be something real after all. Unless it is merely a myth that there is such a common belief. In which case …

  36. Terse telegrams, including the “Peccavi” tale and a debunking.

  37. John Emerson says:

    No truths, no myths.

  38. John, Peccavi certainly isn’t an “urban myth”, whatever that is, as claimed in the letter to the NY Times. It’s much clearer than that. At the time of Gen. Sir Charles James Napier’s 1840-something conquest of Sindh Punch depicted him in a cartoon saying the word (it’s doubly clever because Napier was under orders not to take Sindh, so in taking it he had – kind of – sinned). My guess is that the Punch cartoon is the source, because I don’t really think Napier himself would have been up to it. If he had studied Latin at all it would probably have been during his secondary-boarding-school years in Ireland in the late 18C.
    By the way, through his mother, Napier was the great-great-grandson of Charles II and was related, I think by his aunt’s marriage, to Charles James Fox. Hence his Christian names.

  39. @AJP that was the myth I was referring to – the attribution of Peccavi, not its existence.

  40. The truth or falsity of an urban myth isn’t really relevant to its characterization. The more usual term is urban legend, defined by WP as “a form of modern folklore consisting of stories usually believed by their tellers to be true. As with all folklore and mythology, the designation suggests nothing about the story’s veracity, but merely that it is in circulation, exhibits variation over time, and carries some significance that motivates the community in preserving and propagating it.” Urban here has nothing to do with cities and is merely opposed to traditional. The “Peccavi” story certainly qualifies, except perhaps for the point of exhibiting variation over time.

  41. This spam is bloody annoying.
    “a form of modern folklore consisting of stories usually believed by their tellers to be true. As with all folklore and mythology, the designation suggests nothing about the story’s veracity, but merely that it is in circulation, exhibits variation over time, and carries some significance that motivates the community in preserving and propagating it.”
    By that standard, anything from the battle of Hastings to the Vietnam war is an urban legend. Is that what is intended by the definition: that most of history is legend? Some people would agree, but at the same time it doesn’t seem very helpful. It just smoodges every event (Peccavi and the battle of Hastings, for example) into the same category.
    Urban here has nothing to do with cities and is merely opposed to traditional.
    Urban has nothing to do with cities? Maybe it’s the wrong word, then. In any case, “carries some significance that motivates the community in preserving and propagating it” is pretty much a definition of “traditional”.
    If Peccavi is an “urban legend” using Wikipedia’s definition, it’s only because the definition is meaningless. Peccavi can be traced back to Punch in 1840-whatever, and some people claim it was used by Napier. The latter is unlikely in my opinion (not that I’ve researched Napier’s Latin skills), but it’s not a “legend”, urban or rural. Whatever Wikipedia says “urban legend” implies to me that the source can’t be traced, that Peccavi is just a funny story that might be attributed to virtually anyone with a connection to Sindh, whereas that’s not the case.
    I subsequently remembered that Charles James Fox was also descended from Charles II, so he and Napier must actually have been fairly closely related; not just by marriage, as I said.

  42. AJP, whether you like it or not, “urban legend” is the standard term, and it’s not meaningless unless you follow the Grumbly “everything is equally meaningless” line.

  43. I didn’t say “urban legend” is meaningless, I said Wikipedia’s definition of “urban legend” is meaningless.

  44. the Grumbly “everything is equally meaningless” line.
    Cite the comment thread where I wrote even approximately such a thing, and I’ll eat your hat.
    A notion I would subscribe to is: “thoughts are not what they’re thought to be”. That’s just a variation on the banal “things are not what they seem to be”. Hardly anything to write home to Mom about.

  45. There’s nothing banal about “things are not what they seem to be”. Hackneyed, maybe.

  46. I think of hackneyed and banal as meaning more or less the same thing: they apply to remarks and thoughts, and mean “I’ve already heard that a thousand times, I feel positively faint with boredom at hearing it yet again”.
    But apparently you have a different take. Can you give me another example of something which is hackneyed yet not banal ? Also, please, an example of something which is banal and yet not hackneyed ?

  47. John Emerson says:

    “Urban” means “non-peasant, non-tribal, modern”. Folklorists used to study peasants and tribespeople exclusively. “Urban” has a specific, learnable meaning. This is getting like the idea that Arabs can’t be anti-Semites because they’re Semites themselves.
    The Battle of Hastings wouldn’t be an urban legend, because it’s not modern.
    Grumbly’s line is not “everything is meaningless” but “whatever anyone says, I’ll find a way to bitch about it at length and repeatedly”.

  48. To me, “hackneyed” implies an overused phrase that could still possibly describe something true and interesting. Whereas something that’s “banal” is boring and obvious.
    “Dancing in the streets” is a hackneyed phrase, but it still might be fun to do. “Pole dancing” is a banal concept suitable only for illustrating the life of the Soprano family, but it’s not really a hackneyed phrase.

  49. “Urban” means “non-peasant, non-tribal, modern”. Folklorists used to study peasants and tribespeople exclusively. “Urban” has a specific, learnable meaning.
    You mean in addition to the usual meaning of urban. Ok, I’ll buy that, but it’s a really stupid word to choose for that meaning.
    The Battle of Hastings wouldn’t be an urban legend, because it’s not modern.
    Would Vietnam? Or (say) the Congress of Vienna? Give your reasons, as they used to say in exam questions.

  50. “Urban” means “non-peasant, non-tribal, modern”.
    I have never encountered “urban” in any of those senses, especially not the sense of “modern”. But I wish you all the best in your campaign to change the word’s meaning.

  51. There is a word resembling “urban” that at least comes within hailing distance of meaning “non-peasant, non-tribal, modern”. That word is “urbane”.

  52. Oh, well done Grumbly!!!

  53. “Urban myth” is analogous to “white slave” or “male nurse”. The adjective flags that this time, unlike most times, the noun refers to us rather than them.

  54. Crown, from the way you have described Napier and peccavi, I think it deserves to be called an urbane legend. Urban legends are for the municipal masses.

  55. Cite the comment thread where I wrote even approximately such a thing, and I’ll eat your hat.
    Just teasing!

  56. Jesus Christ, more spam. OK, I’m going to have to close this sucker up for a while and hope they go away. I don’t know why the spammers get attracted to certain threads, but they do.

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