Paul Frank paulfrank at POST.HARVARD.EDU
Mon Nov 29 12:57:34 UTC 2010

> The OED defines "cable" as "cablegram" and "cablegram" as "A message
> sent by submarine telegraph cable." The New Oxford American Dictionary
> defines cable and cablegram as "a telegraph message sent by cable."
> Is that what the cables and diplomatic cables Wikileaks has been publishing are?

On Mon, Nov 29, 2010 at 1:13 PM, Dave Wilton <dave at> wrote:
> Technically no. "Cable" is diplomatic jargon for a message between an embassy and the capital. It once referred to submarine telegraphic traffic, but now it's done via internet, satellite, and other means, but the outdated term remains, like "dialing a phone."

That's what I figured: diplomatic jargon for a message between an
embassy and the capital. And it's not a sense covered by any of my
dictionaries. The diplomatic component appears to me to be essential.
The International Committee of the Red Cross, for example, is
headquartered in Geneva and has missions in most of the world's
trouble spots, but it doesn't receive "cables" from its field offices
(or missions, in ICRC jargon). It receives classified and encrypted
messages which are not referred to as "cables" (actually, they're not
referred to as anything by the press, because none of those messages
has been leaked in decades; within the ICRC they are called
"inter-site messages" or just "messages"; the ICRC reports that were
leaked in April 2009 were a different type of communication and they
were leaked by the American side; but I digress). Perhaps this
diplomatic meaning of the word "cable" ought to be covered by


Paul Frank
Chinese, German, French, Italian > English
Espace de l'Europe 16
Neuch√Ętel, Switzerland
paulfrank at
paulfrank at

> -----Original Message-----
> From: American Dialect Society [mailto:ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU] On Behalf Of Paul Frank
> Sent: Monday, November 29, 2010 6:00 AM
> Subject: cables

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