HOWTO use a phone (1917)

The 1917 Chesapeake and Potomac Telephone Company publication "How to Use the Telephone, 1917" is a clear, sensible guide to managing your "delicately adjusted instrument," including useful tips like finishing your calls with "good-bye" so that the other party doesn't suppose that the operator has cut them off.

How to Use the Telephone, 1917


  1. I’m disappointed that they went with Edison’s suggestion of “hello” rather than Bell’s (and Montgomery Burn’s) “ahoy”.

  2. When did “Smith and Brown.  Mr. Brown speaking” become “Thank you for calling Smith and Brown, purveyors of fine widgets.  Your call is very important to us, so please listen carefully to the entire menu, as it has changed recently…”

    Aside from fact that that”‘changed recently” was eighteen months ago, if they really cared about:
    1) the english language, they’d say “So that your call is properly directed, please listen carefully to the menu…” and
    2) if they really cared about my call, I’d be speaking to a human being.

    A few governments ago in New Brunswick, one Minister, frustrated with calling his own Ministry offices and getting voice-mail-menu hell, decreed that any government phone number that was published in the phone book MUST be answered by a human being.

      1. You’re both right, Just(in?) and Robert.

        Here goes:
        “Thank you for calling Smith and Brown, purveyors of fine widgets.  Merci d’avoir appellé Smith and Brown, deux têtes carrées qui ne parlent pas du tout le français.  Your call is very important to us, so please listen carefully to the entire menu, as it has changed recently.  Votre appel nous tient à coeur, c’est pourquoi nous vous demandons de faire tout le travail.  Ceci dit, veuillez écouter attentivement et choisir de parmi les options du menu suivant, qui n’a pas changé depuis que le présent système téléphone fut installé en 2002.”

    1. “Changed recently” is a standard phrase that’s put into interactive voice response menus regardless of whether the menu has actually changed or not. It’s calculated to force the caller to listen to the menu options rather than just hit “1” or “0” immediately. It’s just one of those things.

  3. Regarding “ahoy”:  Since we’re pretty near a century into this phone business, can we institute a new answering phrase immediately, since clearly the age of the landline is over?

    I suggest “o hai.”

      1. There are other ways to answer a telephone that I’ve heard of. “Go,” for example. Or “Yes?” “What!” is sometimes popular. And once I got a long drawn-out “Uh-h-h-h-h-h-h-h hu-h-h-h-h-h-h-h?” Sometimes you’d get a business name but it was muffled or cut off, and you’d feel like an idiot asking if that was such-and-such business. Which presumably they’d just said.

        Then there’s “This is (name).” That was my standard for answering my work number. Apparently I said it so often that it became nearly robotic. Some people thought they’d reached voicemail.

        1. Similar thing happened to me when I was working at radioshack fresh out of high school.  “RadioShack on $streetcorner, your Sprint AT&T and Boost mobile provider, you’ve reached $myName.  How can I help you?”

          They had all the employees practice it in the back room 3 times a week.  I think it’s called brainwashing?  Anyway I  started inadvertently doing that when answering the home and cellphones.

          I also started reading off times to people in dollars and cents.  What time is it? “4 dollars and 59 cents…. oh! four fifty-nine.”

        2. I had a job at which I answered the phone by saying Nine Long followed by my first name. After a few years, I was upgraded to Fourteen Long. And half the time that I answered the phone, there was a frat boy surgical intern on the line. Endless hilarity.

      2. The Chinese version is “wei” [喂]. If you add that to moshi moshi you’ll confuse the hell out of people, especially if they actually know either Japanese or Chinese… 

  4. It seems we have always had to instruct people on how to behave with technology. Things aren’t really different now than 100 years ago.

  5. This advice probably didn’t help then and it wouldn’t help now.  I’ll spare you my rant about bad phone protocol.
    Speaking of communication problems does anyone else find that the text appearing in the comment box as they type is several seconds behind?  Like something on the page is slowing everything down?

    1. “Bad phone protocol:” A few weeks ago someone called me on a phone I rarely use; my first assumption was “wrong number.”  When I answered, a woman on the other end started griping me out and asked if I enjoyed wasting her time.  I told her she had the wrong number, speaking of wasting one’s time.  She said “Wait isn’t this 6— Oh.” And she hung up.  I Googled her phone number and it turns out she’s a hooker.

      1. Yeah, probably.  It scrolls really slow and jerky for me, and seems to be driving the CPU usage way up when this page is open.

        1. Last night, the star field was alternating with a plain blue background every half second or so to form a nice seizure-indicing strobe effect.

  6. Unless you’re the boss in which case just do it any old way you want and the person on the other end had better just get on with it and not disturb him again, especially with silly questions about his ad layout.

  7. The new cell phone feature I’ve found most annoying is that many cell phones in my area now automatically add a computer-generated “Thank you — goodby” when the caller hangs up.  Callers seem to think that relieves them of having to courteously end the conversation.

  8. If only there was an etiquette book for modern mobile users.

    Though half of them probably couldn’t read it anyway unless it contained phrases like “put down U phone bro”.

  9. “Bloodhoud Detective Agency…whenever there’s trouble we’re there on the double…Mr. Bloodhound isn’t here…”

  10. How to use a phone:
    1. Light cigar.
    2. Put feet up on desk, under circular wormhole of another man holding a phone.
    3. ???
    4. Profit!

  11. My telephone calls to a business usually go like this,

    “Hello, Ravens & Crane”.
    “This is Charles Wooly, may I speak with Mr. Crane please.”
    “Certainly, may I say who’s calling?”
    “Sure, go right ahead.”

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