Will Not Cause Improvement In Rates

Language Log points to the Anglo-American Telegraphic Code (via Google Books), a guide to the code by which telegraph users could abbreviate their messages, conceal their communications from casual observation, and save money on per-word charges. Since Language Log checked their blog title and came up with “Do not leave if you can help,” I first thought to see what “Random Thoughts” signifies in this code. As it turns out, “thought” is not a code word; presumably it’s too useful as a word in and of itself. “Random,” however, signifies “Will not cause improvement in rate(s).”
Apart from the goofing-around value of this codebook, it underscores my argument about meaning not being an immanent quality in words. Everything depends on the network of expectations and conventions that govern expressions; if I were a Victorian telegrapher, “random” could mean that someone is inflexible about a tariff. Once the conventions that govern telegraphy fade away, as per-word charges drop and other communication media prevail over the telegraph, fewer (and eventually “no”) communicators recognized that usage any longer — but nothing changed in the intrinsic qualities of the word.
The Code Book gives as an introductory example the sentence, “Legend attainder abduce viary sadr tailzie kasita dombeya thorn andarac” — which means, “In reply to your letter of 1st of August, I wish to say that if he will make a reasonable abatement I will consider the matter. What is your view? Can it be done safely? Let me know as soon as possible. If it can be done make the best terms possible. Answer by the Anglo-American Code.” To this, I have only one reply: “Random!”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *