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21 March 2023

Happy Morse Code Day 2021


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A Traditional Form of Communication

For those of you who aren’t aware, today (27th April 2021) is Morse Code Day. This special event aims to celebrate the concise, innovative and influential communication tool, and the history of how it transformed the world. You have more than likely seen Morse code being used in Hollywood movies – superheroes use it to send secret communications past villains who are holding them captive, secret lovers use it to send subtle messages constructed within art or braille, and it’s even used in the movie “Independence Day” to help save the world. But how much do we know about this pioneering form of communication?

Morse code, which represents letters of the alphabet, numerals and punctuation marks by an arrangement of dots, dashes and spaces (and their transposition in long and short sound or light signals), laid the foundations for a new era of communication. It has played a vital role in several wars, including World War II and the Korean and Vietnam wars, due to its simplicity and encoding abilities.

With the possibility to be transmitted in several different ways, morse code was originally designed to be used as an electrical pulse along a telegraph wire. Therefore, it can easily take the form of an audio tone. In survival situations, it can be produced by the banging of pots and pans, or by knocking loudly on a hollowed log. It can also be transmitted via a radio signal, with short and long tones, or even the sound of a car horn.

Morse code can be transmitted using flashing lights or reflections. It can also take a non-detectable form of communication via the tapping of fingers or even the blinking of eyes. It was created in the USA by American artist and inventor Samuel F.B Morse (1791-1872)  in the 1800s to work with his invention of the telegraph, which has since gone on to be replaced by fax machines and telephones.

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Morse code started to become popular in European nations shortly after its conception in America. However, it quickly became apparent that this method of communication was inadequate for the transmission of non-English text, as it lacked codes for letters with diacritic marks. Therefore, a variant entitled International Morse Code (also known as Continental Morse Code) was conceived by a conference of European nations in 1851. International Morse Code encompasses the ISO basic Latin alphabet, some additional Latin letters, Arabic numerals and a small set of punctuation and procedural signals – the infamous dots, dashes and spaces, also known as ‘dits’.

Although it may look like a bit of a headache at first glance, Morse code is quite simple to learn once you know the correct sequence of dots and dashes that represent each letter. This ease of writing and understanding Morse code without special equipment has resulted in the language being used for intriguing means. For example, a British prisoner of war used Morse code to create a subversive piece of art during his time in a Nazi prison camp, which was recently on display in the Victoria and Albert Museum in London.

Learn Your Name in Morse Code Day is celebrated annually on 11 January.

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