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Dianne Salerni : Writer of Teen and Middle Grade Fiction | Tweeting in the Nineteenth Century

Tweeting in the Nineteenth Century

They say there’s nothing new under the sun.
via Wikimedia Commons
I’ve written before that séances were like a nineteenth century version of Twitter. And a recent article in WIRED Magazine reveals that people did tweet before Twitter. It was called sending a telegram.
Brevity was key, especially for overseas telegrams, which could cost as much as $1 per word. Grammatical structures greatly resembled the tweets and texts of today, and short cuts like UR for your and THX for thankswere invented long before we started using them for our electronic messages. There were even codebooks of short cuts, such as 88 – which meant love and kisses.
One thing I haven’t seen in our modern texts and tweets, however, is the creative use of prefixes and suffixes to shorten the word count – possibly because we often count by characters, not words. Or maybe today’s tweeters and texters just aren’t as eloquent as telegram senders. WIRED shared this example of a telegram dispatching a foreign war correspondent of The Daily Telegraph to Lagos: “Assume you Lagosward soonest procover situation onspotting warwise.”
And my favorite example was Ernest Hemingway’s response to an editor’s request for receipts documenting his expenses: “Suggest you upstick books asswards.”

18 Responses to Tweeting in the Nineteenth Century

  1. Funny. Hadn’t thought of the telegraph like tweeting. And here we thought we created something new.

    Now if you can tell us what to really do with Twitter. I’ll have to get on soon but don’t want another social media time suck.

  2. SA Larsenッ says:

    Funny. I’ve actually thought about this before. Times change, but not so much when we really look at it.

  3. Wow a dollar per word. No wonder the messages were short. Could you imagine if twitter charged us by the word or tweet? Not that twitter would last long if they did.

  4. Never thought of it this way 🙂 kinda neat. I wonder who invented hashtags?

  5. Never thought about this. But you are right. Creative ways of communication have been around for quite some time.

  6. mshatch says:

    Love Hemingway’s response.

  7. Linda G. says:

    LOL! Well, Hemingway has always been lauded for the brilliance of his brevity. 😉

  8. Interesting post, Dianne. I once commented that people don’t write in “shorthand” anymore, and the person responded, “Yes, they do. It’s called texting.”

  9. haha Good point. Yes, people did communicate with each other, didn’t they? They’d also write more.

    Love the quote.

  10. I think we’ve all wanted to tell people to upstick things asswards from time to time.

    Makes me wish Hemingway were alive and well just so I could read his tweets.

  11. Julia Tomiak says:

    Hilarious! And definitely more clever. I wonder what would happen if we all tried to communicate “telegraph style”- would require some thinking outside of the proverbial box. Sounds like a language arts assignment… Hmm

  12. Lots of amateur radio operators still do communicate “telegraph style”. Morse code isn’t as prevalent as it once was, but it is still alive and well. And it’s an efficient means of communication.

    I LOVE Hemingway’s response. I have a feeling he would have enjoyed being on Twitter.

  13. DL Hammons says:

    We’ve come a long way…or have we? 🙂

  14. Lexa Cain says:

    Oh my! That is so Hemingway. He was a character, wasn’t he? Great post! 🙂

  15. Joanne Fritz says:

    How fascinating! And $1 per word back in those days would have been really expensive. We should all start using 88 for love and kisses!

    Agree with Johanna Garth and Susan Flett Swiderski. Hemingway would have been King of the Twitterverse.

    There’s a novel idea in there somewhere…

  16. Mark Murata says:

    The Daily Telegraph’s correspondent sounds disturbingly like the Newspeak in 1984. I wonder if George Orwell got the idea from telegraphs.

  17. Great comparisons. This was a really interesting post.

  18. AmyMak says:

    Brevity! I’m so guilty of the lack of…Funny Ernest 🙂