And You Think Twitter is New?

Jack Zetkulic, a Senior Foreign Service Officer who served as Executive Director of ADST in 2005 gave a lecture on U.S Diplomatic History in Brief – a Foreign Service Perspective (From Historical Sketches: US Diplomacy) to the newly-hired Foreign Service Officers in 2005/2006 at the Foreign Service Institute. I just read the piece adapted from that lecture; it’s a rollicking read. Below is an excerpt.

“Telegraphy also created a new avenue into the Foreign Service. Code clerks and cipher clerks were brought in, many of whom then moved into diplomatic positions. And a new jargon, “telegraphese,” was created. This is a kind of language that I hope you don’t encounter too much, but some old codgers in the Foreign Service will still write cables in telegraphese — a way of writing in very compact phrases harkening back to the days when the State Department paid for telegram transmission by the word. This is why we end up with shorthand phrases in the cable record like: “Poloff demarched reftel Defmin Tuesday,” which translated means, “The Embassy’s political officer met the Defense Minister on Tuesday and presented the demarche as ordered in the telegram referred to above.” It’s very hard lingo to read. It has the additional advantage of making your work more opaque and mysterious to the uninitiated. One of the greatest examples of telegraphese was the cable sent from the head of our legation in St. Petersburg when the Czar of Russia and his family were killed in Yekaterinburg. The cable reported: “Emperor dead.” That’s that. A more detailed report was later shipped out by diplomatic pouch.”

Twitter – who needs 140 characters if you’ve been writing reports in telegraphese?