telegraphic codes and message practice
scanned code directory

telegraphic codes in literature

Long since removed from my resources page. Time to retrieve, augment, develop.

  1. Mrs (M. E.) Braddon (1835-1915 *. Strangers and Pilgrims (1873)

    Can’t think how any one can write letters, now we’ve got the telegraph, said Lord Paulyn, staring in amazement at aunt Chevenix’s bulky despatches; I always wire.

    But if you were in love, and separated from the object of your affection? suggested Mrs. Chevenix, smiling.

    I should wire; or if I had something uncommonly spooney to say, I might spell it backwards in the second column of the Times. I don’t know how to write a letter; indeed, I’m not at all clear that I haven’t forgotten how to write long-hand altogether. I keep my betting-book in cipher; and when I send a telegram, I always dictate the message to the post-office clerk.

    But I should have thought now, with respect to your racehorses, the telegraph system might be dangerous. There are things you want to keep dark, as you call it, are there not?

    Of course there are. But we’ve got our code, my trainer and I, and our own private names for every brute in my stable. Got a message this morning: Bryant and May taken to the bassoon. By which I know that Vesuvian, a two-year old I was backing for next year, has been run out of her wind in some confounded trial, and is musical.


    Yes, ma'am; a roarer, if you want it in plain English.

    Dear me, how provoking! said Mrs. Chevnix, with a sympathetic countenance, but with not the faintest idea what the Viscount meant.

    Elizabeth consented to the Rancho business languidly.

    I'd rather stay at home and finish my novel, she said...

  2. Anne Warner (1869-1913). Seeing France with Uncle John. New York: The Century Co. (1906)
    first appeared in Century Illustrated Monthly Magazine 72 (new series vol 50) (May-October 1906): 289-301, 459-472, 549-558, 741-752, 832-844. (Pictures by Frederick R. Gruger and May Wilson Preston : indexed as France, Seeing, with Uncle John.)
    google (Harvard copy, digitized January 15, 2009) (unknown ownership)

    Chapter VIII "Uncle John Paralyzed."

    Nouveau riche Uncle John is weary of his travels in Europe, and somewhat falling apart. Confined to bed and in conversation with his niece, he drifts in and out of phrases and codewords recollected from his cable code, in a manner that suggests some loosening in his head.

    174-176 —

    ...What I want you to do is to go to the pocket of my valise get out the cable-code book and look out a word that means Both legs paralyzed. What shall I do with the girls? You'll find a word that means it, if you look long enough. They've got forty pages of words that mean every fool thing on earth from It's a boy to Impossible to lend you ten dollars. I was reading it over in Paris the other day while I waited for my money at the bank.

    Well, ain't you going to get the code-book? I don't want to be impatient, but I want some one to be doing something. You don't know how restless it makes me to think of lying still for the rest of my life. While I was waiting for you, I was thinking that probably I shall live right her in Caen till I die. I'm very glad we got here too late to see anything, because now I can take it bit by bit and drag it out through my remaining days. I shall have a wheeling-chair and a man to push me around, and — well, maybe it's in the little outside pocket. I know I had it in Paris, anyhow; I remember I was just reading that salsify means Your mother-in-law left by the ten o'clock train, and that salsifry means that she didn't, when they brought me my money, and I was free to go.

    Well, now you've got it. I thought maybe it would be in the little valise all the time. Seems to me the sicknesses begin with Salt. I remember Salt-fish means have got smallpox; keep away, and Saltpetre means have got a cold; come at once. You look along there and find paralysis. I'll just keep quiet while you’re looking...

    184-185 —

    Can't you find anyting suitable in that code-book? Here, I've been waiting a quarter of an hour for you to hunt — hand me the book. I remember Shell is have broken my left leg, and Shell-fish is have broken my right leg, and Shawl is — wait a bit — keep still, Yvonne; no one in the wide world can study a code and listen at the —

    Oh, well, I'll leave it till to-night...

  3. Anthony Hope (1863-1933). Second string. (1910)

    Incontestable — Incubation — Infective. So ran the cable.

    Andy scratched his nose and reached for the code.

    If ever a digression were allowable, if expatiation on human fortune and vicissitudes were still the fashion, what a text lies in the cable code! This cold-blooded provision for all emergencies, this business-like abbreviation of tragedy! Asbestos means Cannot remit. Despairing signifies If you think it best. (Could despair sound more despairing?) Patriotic — Who are the heaviest creditors? Passing to other fields of life: Risible — Doctor gives up hope. Refreshing — Sinking steadily; prepare for the worst. Resurrection — There is no hope of recovery. Resurgam — Realization of estate proceeding satisfactorily.

    The cable code is a masterly epitome of life.


  4. Harry Leon Wilson (1867-1939). Bunker Bean.
    Illustrated By F. R. Gruger. Garden City... New York: Doubleday, Page & Company. 1913
    Project Gutenberg

    Two days later a certain traffic manager of lines west of Chicago read a paragraph in this letter many times:
        "The cramped conditions of this terminal have been of course appreciably relieved by the completion of the westside cut-off. Nevertheless our traffic has not yet attained its maximum, and new problems of congestion will arise next year. I am engaged to that perfectly flapper daughter of yours, and we are going to marry each other when she gets perfectly good and ready. Better not fuss any. Let Julia do the fussing. To meet this emergency I dare say it will come to four-tracking the old main line over the entire division. It will cost high, but we must have a first-class freight-carrier if we are to get the business.

        The traffic manager at first reached instinctively for his telegraphic cipher code. But he reflected that this was not code-phrasing. He read the paragraph again and was obliged to remind himself that his only daughter was already the wife of a man he knew to be in excellent health. Also he was acquainted with no one named Julia.
        He copied from the letter that portion of it which seemed relevant, and destroyed the original. He had never heard it said of Breede; but he knew there are times when, under continued mental strain, the most abstemious of men will relax.

  5. Stevie Smith. Novel on Yellow Paper, or work it out for yourself (New York, 1936) : 18-19

    The only way I can lose myself is by doing those cables. We have a secret code which I have simplified because as it was you can have too much of a good thing. There was too much fancy footwork in the old way code. So I simplified it, and now it is just a nice clean game to help you forget there's sixty seconds run off to every minute.

    In the old days a double-barrelled five-letter code cable would take upwards of six hours to decode. And the boys at the other end weren’t as bright at it as we were, and like as not the lazies would sit round waiting for the letter confirming to arrive, and not owning up they couldn’t get the hang of it at all. Such is human pride, friend, no, Brother, such is human pride and frailty. So now we’ve got it all prinked up and tidied and a child could use it, Sir, yes, Sir, if it could count and had the code sheet by.

    By and by I'm going a step further on the upward grade and going to invent a code that doesn't need a code sheet, but you do it in your head, standing on your head, with one hand tied behind, and altering the run of numerals according to the date, see? Simple? Of course it's simple.

secondary literature

  1. Matt Morrison, Planet Telex: On the telegram in fiction. The TLS Blog (3 September 2016)
    No codes, though.