Even after 11 years living in beautiful Coastal Georgia and 20 years married to an American, the subtleties of American language and culture can still surprise me.
I have written before about the sometimes funny confusion in the workplace from being “divided by a common language,” which is how British wartime Prime Minister Winston Churchill explained the differences between American English and “English” English.
I have learned lots of American expressions and grammatical quirks, and now spell in the American way without so much use of the letter “u” but with a lot more use of the letter “z.” Think color vs colour, and analyse vs.analyze.
However, just last week I saw something in my own profession that was new to me. I was watching an online farewell video for a well-known Savannah journalist who is retiring after 49 years. At the end of the video, the phrase “ – 30 –” appeared on the screen and I had no idea what it meant.
My VP, who was watching with me, used to be a newspaper editor.
She explained that this is sometimes used by North American journalists to indicate the end of a story, article or press release. We have issued thousands of press releases at my public relations agency Lesley Francis PR (LFPR, see www.lesleyfrancispr.com), and our corporate style is to end a media release of any kind with “– ENDS –.” Pretty clear and logical, I think.
This is how I learned to do it in London in the 1980s and how most of the rest of the world ends a press release.
So where did “ – 30 –,” commonly pronounced “dash 30 dash,” come from?
I did a little digging, and as is often the case, the answer lies in history.
Two great U.S. corporations started in the 1800s are responsible. The first one is the Western Union Corp., founded in 1851 as the New York and Mississippi Valley Printing Telegraph Co.
The company built many telegraph lines, purchased others and became the Western Union Telegraph Co. in 1856.
After building the first transcontinental telegraph line, the company published a set of guidelines and brevity codes in 1859 in order to reduce the amount of traffic on the increasingly busy telegraph lines. I suppose this could be called an early attempt to increase bandwidth!
Some common brevity codes were 7 (“Are you ready?”), 6 (“I am ready”), 14 (“What’s the weather?”), 18 (“What’s the trouble?”), 73 (“Best regards”), and good old 30 (“No more; the end”).
My personal favorite is 88 (“Love and kisses”).
“Dash 30 dash” was adopted by journalists and was later included in the Phillips Code of abbreviations developed by the Associated Press wire service in 1879. This catalogued 1,760 standard initials and abbreviations, many of which are still used today. The Associated Press (AP) has a mission “to inform the world.”
Headquartered in New York City, it was founded in 1846 by five newspapers that funded a pony express route through Alabama to bring news of the Mexican War north faster than the U.S. Post Office could deliver it.
It operates today as a cooperative, unincorporated association with newspapers and media outlets as its members. It is nonprofit and distributes news reports to its members and customers. It has won over 50 Pulitzer Prizes.
Today, in my profession, every PR professional worth their salt follows the stylebook rules dictated by the Associated Press. A press release has to:
• Be concise, and be of real news value and include the who, what, where, when, why and how. A quote from an expert or company representative is very common. It is not an advertisement.
• Include contact information so the journalist can ask for more information, interviews, images, etc. at the end.
• Often include standard company or organization information at the end as an “editor’s note.”
This is often described as the “boilerplate” language.
There is a lot more information at www.history.com and www.AP.org. I will leave you with this quote about the importance of the free press by 19th century American writer Mark Twain: “There are only two forces that can carry light to all the corners of the globe ... the sun in the heavens and the Associated Press down here.”
God bless America.
Stay safe, stay well and stay positive. Oh, and 73 everybody, and 88 as well!