The American Journalism Review has an interesting article exploring the origin of the “-30-” symbol that journalists used to use to mark the end of a story. I still run across it occasionally when a freelancer of a certain age sends me a manuscript. It appears that no one definitively knows where the symbol came from, but that hasn’t stopped generations of speculation:

So where did the term originate? Some say the mark began during a time when stories were submitted via telegraph, with “-30-” denoting “the end” in Morse code. Another theory suggests that the first telegraphed news story had 30 words. Others claim the “-30-” comes from a time when stories were written in longhand — X marked the end of a sentence, XX the end of a paragraph and XXX meant the end of a story. The Roman numerals XXX translate to 30.

But these are hardly the only explanations, theories and guesses for the rise of “-30-“. It is rumored that a letter to an East India company ended with “80,” a figure meaning “farewell” in Bengali. The symbol supposedly was misread, changed to 30 and took root. Some say the mark comes from the fact that press offices closed at 3 o’clock. And there’s the theory that 30 was the code for a telegraph operator who stayed at his post during a breaking news story until his death 30 hours later — versions of that story even include that the unfortunate operator hit two keys on his machine when he collapsed. Which ones? That’s right, 3 and 0.

Read the whole article here.

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