ASCII by Jason Scott

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Laughing by Telegraph —

We had a little discussion on one of my mailing lists about the origin of the phrase “LOL”, which has a couple claimed fathers – but I thought I’d throw this into the mix. Reprinted from The Annals of Hygiene, Volume 6, published by the Pennsylvania State Board of Health.  Official date of publication: 1891.

Laughing by Telegraph.

Telegraph operators lead a highly monotonous life, and are entitled to all the diversion they can extract from the unemotional machine over which they preside. A laugh transmitted over the wires cannot be of a very infectious nature, but it can be accomplished, nevertheless. When an operator becomes lonely, says the Indianapolis News, and his sounders are clicking out messages not intended for him, he calls up some friend and opens a conversation. This, of course, cannot be continued long before something ” funny” is said. It then becomes the duty of the operator to laugh, which he does by making four dots, then one dot and a dash, thus: . . . .  . —, spelling ha. Thus, to all jokes he replies h-a, h-a. From the same authority we learn that surprise or incredulity, as well as amusement, can be conveyed by a few clicks; thus four dots followed by two dashes make the expression “hm,” the precise meaning of which, in any given instance, is to be judged, no doubt, by the context.

And from a book entitled Historical Sketch of the Electric Telegraph, published in 1852:

To expedite transmission, the communications are made as brief as possible, by the elision of letters, and syllables, and sometimes of half a word; besides which, many conventional signs are made use of. ‘We have,’ says Mr. Walker, ‘a signal for the period or full stop and for paragraphs; and we have one for underlining words. And we have many very valuable special signals. There is also a signal among the clerks for laughing, and one for the whistle of astonishment.’

A certain phrase of interest to the contemporary internet set appears in The New England Farmer, 1869:

There sat the little fellow, busy with his blocks, and in reality not heeding a word of what was being said. But no sooner did the paus’e come than he turned round, and rolling on the floor, laughing as though his little sides would burst, shouted: “Go right on! that’s just such as I like to hear every day!”

If you look hard enough, everything’s already there.

Categorised as: computer history

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  1. bluknight says:

    In amateur radio circles, a laugh is usually conveyed by …. .. (HI) — you will occasionally hear this in voice communications as well. (It’s a nice cool one hundred degrees here, hi hi…)

  2. Chris says:

    What bluknight said… I concur, “HI HI” is how you laugh when working CW (Morse Code)