Bold part of this passage from The Mysterious Affair at Styles.

Miss Howard shook hands with a hearty, almost painful, grip. I had an impression of very blue eyes in a sunburnt face. She was a pleasant-looking woman of about forty, with a deep voice, almost manly in its stentorian tones, and had a large sensible square body, with feet to match—these last encased in good thick boots. Her conversation, I soon found, was couched in the telegraphic style.


1 Answer 1


When people actually sent telegraphs, they were charged at so much per word. Therefore a prudent correspondent would pare the words down to the minimum necessary to communicate information. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Telegram_style#Example

Telegram style, telegraph style, telegraphic style or telegraphese[1] is a clipped way of writing that attempts to abbreviate words and pack as much information into the smallest possible number of words or characters.

Miss Howard's speech exhibits this characteristic.

Weeds grow like house afire. Can't keep even with 'em. Shall press you in. Better be careful.

Might otherwise have been expressed as

The weeds are growing like a house on fire, I can't keep even with them. I shall pressgang you into helping me, so you had better be careful.

  • My favourite example of telegraphic conciseness is when novelist Victor Hugo was on holiday at the time his Les Miserables was published: he inquired of his publisher how it was being received by sending the single-character telegram ? — and received the single-character reply !!  There's also the (apocryphal, unfortunately) example of Maj-Gen Charles Napier, commander of the British Indian Army, who had been ordered to subdue rebels in Sindh: after conquering the whole province, he is supposed to have sent the one-word message peccavi (which is Latin for ‘I have sinned’).
    – gidds
    Dec 4, 2023 at 0:10

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