A Reading Note

The telegraph made communication easier, but brought with it two new constraints: the need for privacy (messages were no longer sealed affairs) and efficiency (telegraph operators charged by the character). Enter cryptography and the art of the abbreviation:

Thus, “The firm of G. Barlow & Co. have failed” becomes “Ejn stwz ys & qhwkyf p iy jhan shtknr.” For less sensitive occasions, Vail proposed using abbreviated versions of common phrases. Instead of “give my love to,” he suggested “gmlt.” He offered a few more suggestions: “mhii” (My health is improving), “shf” (Stocks have fallen), “ymir” (Your message is received), “wmietg” (When may I expect the goods?), [and] “wyegfef” (Will you exchange gold for eastern funds?).

Gleick, The Information, page 154

Alas, nary a “wtf” among them.

Related books

The Information

James Gleick

Glieck’s loosely organized tome details the many ways we’ve organized and communicated information over the ages; or, as is more often the case, failed to do so.