The Perfect ‘F’ Word? (or- ‘Morse Code done warped my young mind.’

    I’m assuming that most readers here spent their childhood roughly like mine: when not plowing, feeding cattle, or chasing butterflies you chatted from a room in the attic with Russians on Morse Code, using a lashed-together contraption made out of salvaged TV tubes.
Ok, maybe your youth was a bit different; (I used the 6AG7 as an oscillator and the 6V6 as a Class C amplifier stage, but there were other options of course. I know that.
Seriously, Morse Code done got in my mind, camped out there, built concrete foundations… and just, like  took the place the hell over. And now I can’t even hear conversational speech without interpreting it as code letters, according to the rhythm of the syllables.
Morse is, as you know, made up of dots and dashes. A dash is three times as long as a dot. We ‘spell out’ the words, but, with an abundance of abbreviations, conversations proceed surprisingly quickly. At 35 (standard 5-letter) words per minute, my usual speed, you know each other’s name, city, weather, and equipment within the first minute. Usually the guy’s name is Vlad. If not, then Val or Yuri. And the more plaintive, chirpy, and weak his signal the more likely it is that your on-line friend is transmitting from the Siberian side of the great Russian  expanse. Cubans and Dominicans, in the 60s, were also chirpy as hell. One of the true talents of a good op was to be able to separate an almost un-readably weak station from the overwhelming cacophony of stronger signals very near it in frequency. I learned to appreciate the fact that they too were struggling to copy my signal, and often with a set-up even more primitive than mine.

And now we finally get to the ‘F’ word.
Di di DAH dit. That’s an ‘F’. ‘Fed-er-a-tion’ is an ‘F’ word. Note the ‘longer’ third syllable.
‘Alabama’ and ‘Tallahassee’ are close, but really don’t quite make the cut.
We use ‘CQ’ as a shorthand general query for contacts. Dah di dah dit/ Dah dah di dah. Try saying: ‘Stands to reason, too loose to goose.’ and you can’t help but sound out the rhythm of the two-letter combo, CQ.
‘In a New York minute’, as you can probably guess by this point, is
.._ _..  Morse for the question-mark sign. That’s what you send if you suspect the guy’s name isn’t Yuri. Or Val or Vlad.

And just for fun(?) here’s the alphabet, with some quick examples I just thought up which seem to mimic the Morse:
A ._    A-lone
B _…  Bees in a box
C _._.  Candelabra
D _..    Deal wid-it
E .       Eat
F .._.    Fotographic
G _ _ .  God you’re hot
H ….     Hemoglobin
I ..        Is it?
J . _ _ _  Jurassic style
K _._    Kangaroo
L ._..     Leviathan
M _ _    Mau-Mau
N _.      Normal
O _ _ _  Oh… my… God!
P ._ _ .  Parisian nights
Q _ _ . _  Quick, slick, an’ thick.
R ._.      Renaldo
S …        Satellite
T _        Tea
U .._     Unaware
V …_    Vanilla-gram
W ._ _  What ails you?
X _.._    ‘X’ in the box
Y _ . _ _ Yank a door knob
Z _ _ ..    Zebras did it

Whew, dat weren’t easy. (And no, I don’t know what a vanilla-gram is either.)  I’m off to California in my
Winnebago to buy some
Or maybe not. Maybe I’ll just say ‘F-it!’

Wu: I dunno, I remember the alphabet with:
‘A bad child dies every Friday. Good heavens I just know little Manny needs octopus parts quickly, Reader, so that under-water vessels’ll xerox your zebra.’
Me: ??? Not sure we’re on the same frequency, Wu. Can you QSY up 5 khz?


39 thoughts on “The Perfect ‘F’ Word? (or- ‘Morse Code done warped my young mind.’

  1. we_deny_everything

    Butch, my scouting patrol leader, taught me that ._. looks like a car (ARR). And .__. is a long car, namely, a Pontiac. I don’t remember the other mnemonics except Beethoven’s Vth, the Victory symphony, is …_ DI-DI-DI-DAHHHH

  2. jsolberg

    @we_deny_everything – As luck would have it, I do recall my learning curve. (as well as who sat where in first grade, a typical freak-ability of the border-line ‘aged’. I actually nailed down the ETAOINS low-hanging fruit by naming chickens with the appropriate initials, then pretending to query them what their names were, ‘really’ in Morse. God I was weird. ‘Y’ and ‘Z’ were the last letters to become 2nd nature. Think we had only 2 dozen chickens a boy would feel like being friendly with.Anyway, by now the Code is so inextricably bound with my synesthesia that I can copy Morse asleep, drunk, and peaking on all but the purest acid.Thanks for your input. An Olds is a really long car, and the Edsel had a fairly short life-span, speaking market-place at least. Scout’s honour.

  3. HappierHeathen

    For some reason or other I could never get Morse to stick in my head. If I find myself listening to CW long enough for some reason it comes back, though with some pain, but a month later I can’t even spell my name. Too many QRP brain cells? (Yes, that was weak.)

  4. ZSA_MD

    wow! this is so fascinating. Please don’t my footprints on this post, because I am going to return to it more to learn more from this. So how would you say ‘bye’? will it be _…_._ _ . ? Dang, I hope I didn’t spell something god awful here.

  5. jsolberg

    @ordinarybutloud – Talking about the at-times distracting side-effect of making such strong rhythmic associations with letters as a child, briefly put. People speak, and I hear their words as letters, and I tried to cite some examples.Nice to see the Furry One here:)

  6. jsolberg

    @ZSA_MD – actually, without inter-letter spacings, as in your example, it’s only a guess what it says. probably something poetic though. We use ’73’ and ’88’ (to a female) as ‘shorthand ‘bye’. So glad you enjoyed it, Zakiah; I wrote the piece to better understand how I ended up with AWS. (Acquired Weirdness Syndrome)

  7. MelFamy

    I remember Moore’s coldHow he flu threw the nightOr how the Moors scoldIf the Koran is not read, right?While you were out Mars calledhis two moons were quite a siteSilly I! You meant the Norse codeBy this juncture I should have node

  8. HappierHeathen

    @jsolberg –  I’m so QRT I can’t stand it. I’ve got QST cards from everywhere there is to be including an SST, and, well… BFD. At some point it goes from hobby to obsession and I like to think I got out before then. I could be wrong, but dammit I got out!

  9. jsolberg

    @HappierHeathen – What a nice surprise. I think the Hobby/Obsession slippery slope is in principle manageable. My older son was born here on the day of an important contest; I was all packed up, batteries charged, but grudgingly spent the day watching childbirth instead of amassing QSOs. Re-up your ticket, and meet me on 20 Meters sometime.

  10. sleekpeek

    You sound like a fun teacher. I’ll be revisiting this as soon as my printer syncs up with my computer, if you don’t mind if I copy this. I think it’s the sing songy albeit monotonous rhythm that helps the memory.

  11. jsolberg

    @sleekpeek – You have, in both your xanga-carnations, a sweet way with words; you obviously see them on several levels at once. I therefore fear for that movie moment when I contract to teach you the Code, you master it halfway through the first lesson, and then, despite the unavoidably competitively ‘pissing contest’ aspect of Ham Operators, we manage to ‘meet sweet’, so to speak. Yeah, I’d love to be your teacher, if I could keep my hands on the telegraph key:)

  12. jsolberg

    @twoberry – You just jogged my memory: Only once, between ’56 and ’76, when I was most famously active on-the-air, did I hear anything even remotely resembling a curse-word in Morse. I remember copying down the offender’s Call Sign and having my Dad call the FCC in Washington D,C. Yeah, that was before the Present Era, the Triumph of Xanga Front Page Vulgarity. Too bad that bloggers aren’t required to post in Morse Code. Your wacky business with Letters, though, does put us at least in communication distance, as far as seeing more than the prosaic spoken word is concerned.

  13. seedsower

    vanilla-gram…we have Cinnamon Grahams that are good.I learned Morse code and would tap it out on my desk to my friend at school, it was a fun way to communicate. I really enjoyed this post, I truly love the way your mind works and reading your work is always a treat.

  14. jsolberg

    @seedsower – Oy, du Liebe, I wish I could send you some Vanilla-grams♥ The Morse, like all languages, grabs one’s brain in earnest only after it’s been used, with no alternative, in life-or-death situations. Like high-school French, when you’re escaping an over-hormone-ed paramour in Paris.And while we’re on the phone, kid, I shoulda come up with the ‘real’ words I used, in Dutch, to remember the letters. Some I fergot. I’d have to ask the chickens. ^-see Reply above-

  15. seedsower

    BTW I like the W’s “What ails you?” the best…that is easy to remember, don’t know how many hundreds of times Ma has asked me that same question! Although Q’s “Quick, slick, an’ thick.” made me laugh out loud.

  16. jsolberg

    @sleekpeek – Thanks, you; cleared up a small mystery. I like that ‘mate’ term. It’s a far more admirable end-of-end-game descriptor than ‘Death of Queen.’ Odd, though not entirely surprising, how you inspire memorable film-vignettes. But that’s probably what Samuel F.B. Morse had in mind. _._ .. … … . …

  17. murisopsis

    Where was this post last night while I was trying to decipher coordinates and clues in Morse code?? Gah! I was as much a failure at it as when I tried to figure out coordinates in binary.

  18. jsolberg

    @murisopsis – We do seem to have a pattern here of intermingled inspirations.Morse is like anything else; familiarity, ie repeated use, brings contempt. Oops I meant contentment. Competence?I had both imposing worlds to deal with a while ago when I built a keyboard to send code. Scan, get a key-stroke in binary (ok, Hex) go to look-up table, fetch a three-byte ‘word’, which if interpreted as dits and dahs a bit at a time, eventually keys the transmitter. Worked, but it feels more ‘noble savage’ to just send bare-hand.Hope this isn’t boring. And I will try to get my posts in better synch with your needs, Val:)

  19. HappierHeathen

    @jsolberg –  I made the mistake of opening a repair shop in ’87. It’s one thing to have the same four conversations over and over when there’s a power switch to turn them off, quite another to have them over and over in person.The content of 95% of all QSO’s in one swell foop: It’s looking like snow coming here in Northwest Colorado, and my arthritic knees are confirming the weatherman’s prediction. They say around here that if you don’t like the weather just wait ten minutes. I’m running a Yaesu FT-101B that I restored to perfect condition a few years ago with a Turner +3B that I bought new in 1981 and has never given me a lick of trouble. Got me a homebrew tri-bander perched on a 30′ tower that I picked up at the TRW radio swap meet in Redondo Beach back in ’85, and an inverted-V out in the back yard that I have to fix because a tree limb fell on it last week. I QSO’d with a guy in Barcelona a little while ago but conditions changed and I lost him before getting his address. Sounds like you’ve got a little oscillator drift there but you’re five by five.:D Should that nasty bug ever bite me again, and if the wife doesn’t kill me for it, I’ll let you know!

  20. jsolberg

    @HappierHeathen – Oh man, nobody who hadn’t been there could invent the scene so realistically. You-uns W-zeros always did have fascinating personalities.For me, I spent very little time chewing rags, preferring break-neck paced contests, and CW for DX. Felt more primal and apocalyptic. Still, even money we’re in each other’s logs somewhere. I was very active and well-known. Being a rare 4X1 helps, but not with our neighbors, although I did swap pleasantries with JY1, the late King Hussein, bless his memory.Anyway, it’d be a pleasure to be in contact sometime. And I do have a ‘hurt’ TS-440 here with an unstable oscillator board. 73, &add -UX.

  21. HappierHeathen

    @jsolberg –  CW does have a certain charm, I gotta admit. I had a neighbor whose kids thought he was keen on screaming “Christmas!” from his shack out in the garage… “QRS my ass!”. Me? “QLF my ass!”.Who knows? Maybe some day I’ll become disabled and so won’t have too many other things to do and will want to hear about random strangers’ blood pressure and equipment again. Gawd, I hope not! :DCUAGN 73. .

  22. Roadkill_Spatula

    I vaguely wanted to learn Morse Code in high school, so a friend gave me a key to practice with. The only use I gave it was to make beeping noises during one of Mr. Cartee’s classes. Wish I’d stuck with it. In Honduras (refugee work) I was radio operator for a while but they were VHF and UHF frequencies and we just used voice. My ex-in-laws had a ham radio (they lived in the jungle in Costa Rica). For a while we had one in our house in San Jose, but they and a couple of other missionaries were the only people with whom we communicated. No Morse involved.

  23. Lakakalo

    Solberg, you tower above the competing beasts like a giraffe in a circus parade, and I don’t think the 40 foot whooping crane was anywhere to be seen.- …. .. … .. … -… .-. .. .-.. .-.. .. .- -. -!

  24. Lakakalo

    @jsolberg – Thank you. It was a combination of a rather questionably timed and nasty cold and a temporary withdrawal of internet services due to a lack of payment due to said nasty cold. Happy Belated Year of the Wossname. 😀

  25. gnostic1

    I was closer to the Russians than you, perhaps not politically but geographicly, and all they seemed interested in divulging over the short wave was their signal strength, call sign, and weather details. It was like dealing with well-trained prisoners of war. Citizen’s Band conversations were, if anything, worse.My early experiments with electronic communications with distant strangers convinced me that the world wide web would never fly.

  26. jsolberg

    @gnostic1 – Yeah, the web’s a non-starter, and not only because the world market for home computers is probably, oh, about 50.Interesting, your ham thoughts. Yes, we studiously did not ask anything much, apart from RST, QTH, and WX. As a favor to Bulganin’s vision I guess. ‘Well-trained POWs’ Wow, perfect.


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