The History Of The Term 'Cable'

David Geyer of the State Department tells NPR's Guy Raz about the history of terminology for a diplomatic message. When did "cable" become a noun for a packet of information from abroad? What term preceded it? When did "cables" actually start being used, and when did that method of transmission cease? (If, in fact, it has ceased in this digital age.)

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Diplomatic messages are called cables, as if they were filaments of some multi-strand wire. Well, the first diplomatic cables were linked to real wire. They were transmitted by telegraph on underwater cables that in the 19th century began to connect nations.

(Soundbite of telegraph beeps)

SIEGEL: Before the telegraph, communication and transportation were bound together. Messages moved from nation to nation at the speed of a fast horse, or a ship. And that pace was not considered a bad thing.

GUY RAZ, host:

But the telegraph cable that connected Britain and Europe, and later Europe to America, changed all of that, and speed won the day. Those original cables are gone now, but the name for a diplomatic message is still called a cable in its new digital form.

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