MSG (1949); Telegraph "Bug"

James A. Landau JJJRLandau at AOL.COM
Thu Sep 20 00:36:52 UTC 2001

In a message dated 09/19/2001 6:56:05 PM Eastern Daylight Time,
Bapopik at AOL.COM writeth:

>    FWIW, from the NYHT, 1 March 1949, pg. 23, col. 5:
>  _Dempsey's Savior_
>  _In Fight With Firpo_
>  _Turns in His "Bug"_
>     Gray-haired Perry Grogan packed away his "bug" for the last time last
> night and announced his retirement as a telegraph operator. (...)
>     For twenty-four years Grogan worked his "bug" at every World Series
> major fight, football game and other sports event in the East.

"bug" is not a slang term for a telegraph key; rather it is Morse operators'
jargon for a specific type of telegraph key.  With a bug, holding the key to
one side produces any desired numbers of "dits" (dots) and the dahs (dashes)
are produced in the traditional way, by holding down and then releasing the
key for each dah.  The official name is something like "semi-automatic key".

With a conventional telegraph key an operator is limited to something like
(if I remember correctly) 20 words per minute using International Morse (a
little faster with Railway Morse).  With a bug speeds of something like
(IIRC) 60 wpm are possible.

(A key that automatically produces dits like a bug and any desired number of
dahs by moving the key in the opposite direction is a "keyer".)

I learned about bugs circa 1960 when K4JGC gave our seventh grade class a
tour of his ham station and showed us how a bug worked.

It is possible that Mr. Grogran used a bug instead of a conventional key, or
a keyer, but I suspect that the the NYHT writer simply didn't know his
telegraph jargon.

         - Jim Landau (who is NOT a Morse operator)

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