Telegrams were charged by the word so they were brief and to the point, and famously used “STOP” instead of a period. The best telegram writers leveraged these constraints to create pithy, witty, or poignant messages.
if you’d like to compose your message in authentic Telegram Style here are a few tips:
- Telegrams were charged by the word so be brief and to the point
- Eliminate articles of speech and small words such as “a, and, the, to”
- Use ALL CAPS when writing
- Write out numbers – “Ten” instead of “10” – “Ten” counted as one word, but “10” counted as two.
- No punctuation marks – Substitute “STOP” for “.” (Period)
- Don’t put the person’s name at the beginning of the message like in a letter
For you Telegram nerds out there read on for the full story…
Naturally, there is a right way and a wrong way –
“Naturally, there is a right way and a wrong way of wording telegrams. The right way is economical, the wrong way, wasteful. If the telegram is packed full of unnecessary words, words which might be omitted without impairing the sense of the message, the sender has been guilty of economic waste.”
“HOW TO WRITE TELEGRAMS PROPERLY” A Small Booklet by Nelson E. Ross, 1928
So what’s all this about “Economic Waste” then?
Just like any other medium of communication the Telegram had its own set of conventions and stylistic guidelines during its heyday (roughly 1860-1950). Some of these developed from the restrictions of the medium itself, some from economic considerations, and some from the social conventions of the age. What distinguished Telegram style from letter writing, the other mainstream written communication method of the day was its brevity. While the letters of the day might be noted for their wordiness and prolixity, the Telegram was typically short and to the point, sometimes poetic in its pithiness. The primary driver of this brevity was economic; telegrams were priced by the word. For a standard telegram anything over an allocation of ten words increased the price incrementally. Naturally this was an incentive to make the telegraphic message concise. The telegram style that evolved not only did away with florid language, but also eliminated articles of speech (“a”, “the”, etc.) and other small words in an effort to reduce the charges.
In addition to the charge per word, the telegram had some particular quirks of allowable language that influenced their style. Each numeral in a number was charged as an individual word so that “10” counted as two words, whereas if it were written out as “ten” it only counted as one word. Thus the preferred style was to write out all numbers. Additionally numerical suffixes (1st, 2nd, 3rd) counted as additional words so that “10th” would count as three words whereas “tenth” would only count as one.
Another unique feature of telegrams was that punctuation marks were not allowed; no periods, commas or question marks could be sent. Additionally, accent marks, percent signs, ‘ for feet, and ‘” for inches were not allowed and had to be written out as percent, feet, inches, etc. This lack of punctuation necessitated a style that limited potential confusion and included the use of “STOP” when necessary to replace a period; “STOP” being a shortening of the English usage “Full Stop”, a synonym for “Period”.
At times in various searches people have misspelled the word “Telegram” in various ways including “Telagram, Telgram, Telygram, Telegramm, Telegramme, Tellagram, Telagramm”. The possibilities are endless. Also, people sometimes confuse Telegraph with Telegram; the Telegraph is the device used to send the message and the Telegram is the actual printed message. There also is a newfangled messaging app called “Telegram” which purports to be secure but what could be more secure than a non-electronic message we ask you?
How about sending a Christmas Telegram? Or a New Years’ Telegram? Do your friends really want to see another picture of your kids? How about a telegram from Santa to your kids??
- Use ALL CAPS
- Brief and to the point
- Write out numbers – “Ten” instead of “10”
- No punctuation marks – Substitute “STOP” for “.”
- Remove articles of speech and small words such as “a, and, the, to”