Vail's Code vs Morse Code

While reading a refreshed post on Morsitis I was reminded of a fact I recently learned from watching reruns of BBC television series QI, Series O Episode 6, “Odds and Ends”.

In answer to a question about morse code, the commentator said that Alfred Vail, a machinist who often worked with Morse, was responsible for the idea of using dots and dashes to convey messages (1838). Morse enhanced the idea. Plus, it is not a “code” per se, but a “cipher”, which replaces individual letters whereas a code replaces words or phrases. So we communicate with Vail’s cipher…

The British game shows are so much more intelligent than American, where we have a pretty woman spinning letters on a wall or screaming prices of things on the stage. Thanks!


I read some where Alfred Vail came up with the idea to use the least amount of dots then dashes on the most used letters in the English print language. Thus dot for E dash for T dot dash for A dash dot for N. You may notice the most complex combinations of dot dash are used in Z Y X . I enjoy Morse code very much and am glad for it as a means of communicating for SOTA. The other day I chased a couple activators on 40m ssb and it was hard work to swap reports with such low signals during the day but cw would have been a snap.
Ian vk5cz…

1 Like

The evolution of the Code took time. Morse was shown a basic telegraph system by Henry. Henry used it to let his wife know when he was leaving the Uni to come home for a meal. Others such as Wheatstone also were using telegraphic systems at this time. Morse adapted the existing telegraph systems. Morse did produce a code but it was a bit clumsy so Vail reworked it. This was again modified by others and a number of versions existed around the World one of which we use today. Morse initially used a paper tape inker to record the signals but the operators learned to read the messages by ear from the sound of the inker relay. They had the message written down before the tape was taken off the machine for reading. And so began the practice of decoding by ear.

Quiz show is not really the right name, more “panel show” - it’s made for entertainment, not for the winning. Hence the celebrities.

There’s a whole subreddit devoted to panel shows if you want more

Also that is a cracking fact, cryptography and encoding in general is fascinating

1 Like

And don’t forget the “American Morse” and “Continental” are different.
We use the “Continental” code on radio. They are quite different and
if you want to go wacky, try to copy American Morse either on the radio
or with a sounder! I used to hear some OTs on the bands using American
Morse some years ago. I learned it once but never used it enough to get
good at it. I worked for Western Union (The American telegraph Co.) for
30 years but the Morse was gone by the time I got there (1966). I was
able to save a few keys and sounders as they were considered junk.
And the Morse “registers”, (the item that inked the code onto a paper
tape) were being thrown into the trash by the ton. Too bad!

John, K6YK

Lol… Right on Mike regarding the game shows etc. So true… I lived in northern England for 4 years as M0BWX. Worked you 2 days ago. You were on W2/GC/109. See you again on bands. 73. Richard, N6PKT

We have those here too :frowning: