Ready Made

In 1923 the Acme Code Company published a list of “phrase codes” for use in telegrams — customers could save money by substituting a five-letter code for a longer phrase in their messages. The list of codes was charmingly comprehensive:

BIINC What appliances have you for lifting heavy machinery?

URPXO For what use was the mixing machine intended?

CHOOG lard, in bladders

GAHGU cod-liver oil

GNUEK rubber, slightly moldy

HEHST clammy condition

ZOKIX unhealthy trees

ARPUK The person is an adventurer …

BUKSI Avoid arrest if possible

NARVO Do not part with the documents

OBYNX Escape at once

CULKE Bad as possibly can be

LYADI Arrived here with decks swept … encountered a hurricane

PYTUO Collided with an iceberg

YBDIG Plundered by natives

Similarly, George Holland Ackers’ Universal Yacht Signals (1847) includes signals for “Can I have … quarts of turtle soup?”, “Marmalade — orange unless specified,” and “I can strongly recommend my washerwoman.”

In Film Facts (2001), Patrick Robertson notes that Central Casting installed a Hollerith computer in 1935 to help with the casting of extras in Hollywood films. This meant subdividing humanity into tidy categories — lawyers, for instance, were classed as Shrewd, Dixie, Hawk-faced, Inquisitor and Benevolent. “When the new system was unveiled before the press, the operator was asked to produce ten Englishmen, 6ft tall, blue-eyed, possessed of full evening dress, and able to play polo. The cards of all 600 male dress extras were run through the machine to reveal that there were only two such paragons on the books of Central Casting.”

See Enjoy Your Stay.