High Iron (1938)

Jesse Sheidlower jester at PANIX.COM
Mon Jul 30 01:06:44 UTC 2001

On Sun, Jul 29, 2001 at 08:23:47PM -0400, James A. Landau wrote:
> >  OPERATOR'S FIST: The distinctive, cursive type of handwriting
> characteristic
> > of telegraph operators and train dispatchers (Not in RHHDAS.)
> Probably a mistake on Beebe's part.  Any Morse code operator has a style of
> sending Morse that is as distinctive as his handwriting or voice (although
> with a good deal of effort it can be counterfeited.)  In my experience "fist"
> refers to an operator's distinctive style.

While this is certainly a real sense of _fist_ (and one that is included in
HDAS), the sense 'handwriting' also exists, and is attested in the OED
from the sixteenth century onwards. (Though there is only one quote after
1700, the definitional note "Now only joc." suggests that the word was
indeed in use at the time the entry was written.)

It could be a mistake on Beebe's part, but perhaps the term had more currency
than we realize.

Jesse Sheidlower

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