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December 6th, 2005


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04:10 pm - your mission, should you choose to accept it
While flying home last night I read the ever-so-charming Cheaper By The Dozen, the memoirs written by two siblings (out of twelve!) about life in the 1920s with their father, an iconoclastic efficiency expert who ran the house like a business and found ways to go about life en masse. (Two films were made of the memoirs in the 1950s; the later Steve Martin remakes don't count because the only thing it has in common with the source material is the notion of a family with twelve kids.) During one part of the story, the father decides to teach his children Morse Code by painting dots and dashes all over the walls of their Nantucket summer home -- some of the messages provided clues to stashes of goodies, f'rinstance. (Some messages were red herrings, but hilariously so, like "There's no reward here, but go and run off anyway as if you found a clue, just to make everybody else curious.") Once the kids learned the code, they happily ran all over the place decoding the dots and dashes.

How they learned the code to begin with, though, is what inspired me. See, some people find Morse Code easy to learn. You just have to get the rhythm of the letters in your head and soon enough, apparently, it becomes nicely ingrained and you idly tap out messages at the dinner table or hear garbled letters in staccato rhythms. For some reason, however, the rhythm doesn't work for me, at least not thinking about it in terms of dits and dahs. I don't know. I hadn't been able to find a way to really get good at it. The way Frank Gilbreth taught his kids, however, used a mnemonic alphabet that really made me sit up and go "Ah ha!" Problem was, the book only gave four examples.

To begin with, I shall first show you an example of a supposedly "easy!" way to learn Morse Code that I found on this genius website. See how much you can read before your eyes glaze over.

The following table converts the letters of the alphabet to words on a first letter basis; e.g. "A" becomes "Ax," "B" becomes "Bear,"... and "X" becomes "Xray" .... The words are then formed into two columns depending upon whether the Morse Code equivalent of the first letter starts with a Dot/Dit (.) or a Dash/Dah (-). A letter always retains its Dit/Dah column identity (refer to table). For example, an "A" will always be a Dit, a "B" will always be a Dash,... and an "X" will always be a Dash.... A word can be translated into Dits and Dahs by spelling it and substituting Dits and Dahs for its component letters (e.g. A = A"x" = Dit "Dah"; B = Be"a"r = Dah Dit "Dit" Dit; and X = "X"ray = "Dah" Dit Dit Dah). Memorizing Morse Code letters then means memorizing these words and the columns to which they belong. An easy way of doing this follows the table.

BAHR METHOD MNEMONIC MORSE TABLE

DOTS (Dits)                                   DASHES (Dahs)

. -                                           - . . .
A x                                           B e a r

.                                             - . - .
E                                             C r o w

. . - .                                       - . .
F a c e                                       D i p

. . . .                                       - - .
H e a p                                       G n u   (African antelope) 

. .                                           - . -
I V  (IntraVenous)                            K i d

. - - -                                       - -
J o c k   (Athlete)                           M D  (Medical Doctor)

. - . .                                       - .
L o v e                                       N E  (NorthEastern)   

. - - .                                       - - -
P o t s                                       O d d

. - .                                         - - . -
R o w                                         Q t a m   (Electronics term)

. . .                                         -
S e a                                         T

. . -                                         - . . -
U F O  (See story)                            X r a y

. . . -                                       - . - -
V e s t                                       Y a n k    (Yankee)

. - -                                         - - . . 
W o k   (Oriental frypan)                     Z o e a    (Crab larva)


Word and column memorization is easy using the "link" memory method, which uses an associative technique, demonstrated below:

For Dits, picture clearly in your mind, exaggerating as much as possible, the following story or sequence of events:

An Ax smashes a large letter "E" into smithereens of little letter "E's" which fly and hit someone in the Face. The person falls in a Heap, is given an IV, a Jock visits, and Love develops. Once well, they climb into large Pots and Row out to Sea. There, they see a UFO (round and metallic Unidentified Flying Object). They catch it and use it first as an armored Vest and later as a Wok.

For Dahs, picture clearly in your mind the following events:

A Bear takes a Crow in his paws and eats it with Dip. Trotting by is a Gnu being ridden by a Kid who just got his MD from NorthEastern. "Odd," shouts the kid to the bear about the fare. "Why with a QTAM T, I could Xray that crow and see Yank Zoea inside."


Isn't that great? You have to memorize a dot or dash for each letter and then spell arbitrary and arcane words with that dot and dash code in order to divine the actual dot-dash code. Multi-layered memorization! Bleah!

Now here's how Frank Galbreth, efficiency expert, did it: He assigned a word (or word phrase) to each letter of the alphabet. The cadence of these words matched the dot-dash cadence of the letter. It may assume some things about regional pronunciation, but on the whole, I think it's a great method. For instance, the letter A (dot-DASH) was assigned the word about. a-BOUT. dot-DASH.

B (DASH-dot-dot-dot) was BOIS-ter-ous-ly. C (DASH-dot-DASH-dot) was CARE-less CHIL-dren. D (DASH-dot-dot) was DAN-ger-ous. Get it?

Unfortunately, that's all you're gonna get. The book only gives those four examples, and Google's been no help at all. We got 22 letters left, folks. Anybody want to be smart and flesh the rest of the alphabet out? The guidelines are to stay as alliterative as possible, of course, and please try not to use goddamn words like QTAM (which so doesn't count) or Zoea (we're delving into Desperate Crossword Puzzle Writer territory here. 25 down: FENCING SWORD.)

Owen and I decided on One Of Us (DASH-DASH-DASH) for O, even though Us isn't much of an o-word. R, for instance, could be ram-BUNC-tious. N can be NA-ked. Woo hoo, et al. Ok, so that's 7 down, 19 to go. Who else will rise to the challenge?

(17 comments | Leave a comment)

Comments:


[User Picture]
From:preraphaelite
Date:December 6th, 2005 10:07 pm (UTC)
(Link)
L: li-NO-le-um
M: MY-MY
S: syn-er-gy ?
R: re-STATE-ing
[User Picture]
From:preraphaelite
Date:December 6th, 2005 10:10 pm (UTC)
(Link)
I: aye-aye! (:
[User Picture]
From:derspatchel
Date:December 6th, 2005 10:10 pm (UTC)
(Link)
Oooh, I really like linoleum for L.
[User Picture]
From:off_coloratura
Date:December 6th, 2005 10:18 pm (UTC)
(Link)
Go Get It!
Jet Jaguar!
Kick a Kid!
Loquatiously!
My my!
Pretend Princess!
va-va-va-VOOM!
[User Picture]
From:joenotcharles
Date:December 6th, 2005 10:38 pm (UTC)
(Link)
KICK-a-KID and va-va-va-VOOM are awesome!

I can't figure out how "Jet Jaguar" even has four syllables, though, let alone equal emphasis on the last three. It'd have to be pronounced, "jet JAG-YOU-ARE!" Kind of like "DYN-O-MITE!" (I'm really annoyed D isn't -.- now.)
[User Picture]
From:derspatchel
Date:December 6th, 2005 10:40 pm (UTC)
(Link)
I have to agree, va-va-va-VOOM is definitive.
[User Picture]
From:mmcirvin
Date:December 7th, 2005 12:59 am (UTC)
(Link)
Though that was one of the three Morse letters I already knew (along with S and O) because of the association between the opening theme of Beethoven's Fifth and V for Victory in WWII Allied propaganda broadcasts.
[User Picture]
From:off_coloratura
Date:December 7th, 2005 12:15 am (UTC)
(Link)
Yeah,I thought of that. It somehow worked in my mind when I remembered the MST3K episode where Tom Servo pronounced it a little like jet JAG-AA-AAR.

But now that I've come up with it, I will NE-ver (n) forget that J is dot-dash-dash-dash.
From:sernin
Date:December 6th, 2005 10:21 pm (UTC)
(Link)
Nip-sey (Russell)

Yel-low Yo-Yos
[User Picture]
From:chanaleh
Date:December 6th, 2005 10:47 pm (UTC)
(Link)
a = ah-HA!
g = GO GADget!
j = ja-MAI-CA, MON!
x = X-in-the-Box
y = YIPpee KAI-YAI!
z = Zoom-Zoomity
[User Picture]
From:nathanw
Date:December 6th, 2005 11:09 pm (UTC)
(Link)
Learning morse on paper always seemed kind of silly. Learning it with tapes, or better yet, various pieces of software, is an awful lot better. Of course, I've forgotten all the morse I learned to get my ham license...
[User Picture]
From:derspatchel
Date:December 6th, 2005 11:15 pm (UTC)
(Link)
It is kind of silly on paper or CRT (or LCD or whatever), I'll grant you that, but this word-cadence mnemonic for me is the best way to bridge the transition between the written code and the audible recognition. I'm already tapping words on the table when nobody's looking. rambunctious one of us boisterously.
[User Picture]
From:spwebdesign
Date:December 6th, 2005 11:20 pm (UTC)
(Link)
If you want to keep O all Os, then how 'bout One Of Ours instead of One Of Us?
[User Picture]
From:derspatchel
Date:December 7th, 2005 05:52 pm (UTC)
(Link)
Owen and I talked this one over -- I was for One Of Ours until I realized One Of Us works for me thanks to the gooble gobble chant in Freaks ("Gooble gobble, we accept you! We accept you! One of us!")
[User Picture]
From:signsoflife
Date:December 6th, 2005 11:30 pm (UTC)
(Link)
S: Si si si! (said quickly).
[User Picture]
From:mmcirvin
Date:December 7th, 2005 12:55 am (UTC)
(Link)
So what the hell does QTAM actually mean if it's an "electronics term"? The closest I can find is that it seems to have been the name of some sort of file transfer utility for the System/360.
[User Picture]
From:chanaleh
Date:December 7th, 2005 03:37 pm (UTC)
(Link)
I just got a BRILLIANT idea for encoding short text messages (say, in a mystery story): the message plaintext consists of words of one to four syllables... each word representing a Morse code letter by its scansion. (No alliterative connections, as here.)

The hard part, of course, would be coming up with the all-dashes. And different variations for common letters. Oh, and you'd have to be pretty good at scansion to decode it. -- Still.

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