Ronald Butters ronbutters at AOL.COM
Mon Nov 29 19:02:06 UTC 2010

I feel certain that CABLE has had the jargon meaning 'confidential international communications between government agencies' for a very long time. On the one hand, this is jargon. However, it is also fairly widely used by the press and others. One would expect an unabridged dictionary might show the distinction. I suspect this is one of the many cases in which nobody thought to update the dictionary entry in response to subtle shifts in technology (subreption).

On Nov 29, 2010, at 9:10 AM, Paul Frank wrote:

> Interestingly, no one is calling these diplomatic cables "cablegrams"
> in English, presumably because "cablegrams" went the way of the dodo
> (as has the State Department's* credibility).
> An indication that "cable" now has the specific meaning of a
> "diplomatic dispatch" (or despatch) is that German newspapers are
> translating "diplomatic cables" as "diplomatische Depeschen" and
> French newspapers as "dépêches diplomatiques" and more sloppily (AFP
> and particularly several Swiss-French papers) as "câbles
> diplomatiques." Spanish papers are calling them "mensajes
> diplomáticos," "cables diplomáticos" and "papeles diplomáticos".
> Italian papers are calling them "messaggi diplomatici" and
> "cablogrammi diplomatici". My guess is that this imbroglio will give
> new life to the close cognates of the words "cablegram" and "cable" in
> several European languages. And in Chinese, the rather old-fashioned
> words "dianbao" (电 cablegram) and "dianwen" (电文 telegram) are also
> making a quick comeback.
> *Speaking of the State Department, if Downing Street meaning the
> British government gets an entry in the OED how come "Foggy Bottom"
> doesn't get one?
> Paul
> Paul Frank
> Translator
> Chinese, German, French, Italian > English
> Espace de l'Europe 16
> Neuchâtel, Switzerland
> paulfrank at
> paulfrank at
> On Mon, Nov 29, 2010 at 1:57 PM, Paul Frank <paulfrank at> wrote:
>>> 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
>> dictionaries.
>> Paul
> ------------------------------------------------------------
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