The origin of the end mark -30-
What does the traditional symbol -30- mean, and where did it come from? Years ago, The American Press magazine compiled a list of 18 sources that have been cited at one time or another:
- In the days before typewriters XXX (Roman for 30) on manuscript copy indicated the end of the story.
- Thirty pica ems was the maximum length line used in early typesetting machines. thus “30” was the end of the line.
- “Eighty” means farewell in Bengali. An English officer used the figures at the end of a letter to the East Indica Company in 1785. Adopting the figures for brevity in dealing, the company mistakenly made them “30.”
- The first message sent to the central press office during the Civil War totalled 30 words. The thirty, together with the words “good night,” were placed at the bottom of the sheet by the telegrapher.
- In a wire service office in Los Angeles, a Western Union telegrapher recalls hearing that -30- symbols started with a W.U. operator in Morse Code days. The operator’s name was “THURSTY” and he signed this to his daily file of stories. Other telegraphers picked it up and made it “thirty” and finally “30.”
- Before typewriters, all news copy was written in longhand. To indicate clearly the end of their stories, writers adopted a numerical symbol, which as legend has it was -30-.
- Another possibility is that -30- stemmed from the fact that 30 words were just the right fit in a stick of type in the days when newspaper body type was set by hand.
- The end mark in the early days of newspapering was space. (The mark “#” is still used.) But when typewriters came along, reporters found it quicker to hit the “#” key without going to uppercase. What came out was “3,” and to tie it up more neatly they added an “0” and -30- was born.
- When newspaper stories were handwritten, “X” meant the end of a sentence, “XX” meant the end of a paragraph, “XXX” meant the end of the story.
- A telegraph operator whose number was 30 once stayed at his key sending news of a disaster long after his assistants had fled and until death came to him.
- Years ago in the West, dispatches were delivered by telegraph messenger to the newspaper office. The office closed at 3 a.m. and the operator wrote 3 o’clock at the bottom of the sheet. this was abbreviated to “0,” then became “30.”
- When the Associated Press was established, each member paper was entitled to 30 telegrams a day. Last of the day’s quota was labeled “30.”
- Early telegraph operators had a code for conversation asides on the wire, such as 1 meaning “Wait a minute.” So “30” meant “end of item.”
- The 30 magistrates appointed by Sparta over Athens at the end of the Peloponnesian war were called the 30 tyrants and were overthrown at the end of one year. the end of the tyrants was heralded as “30.”
- When the New York Associated Press began operations its contract called for a night report of 3,000 words. When that amount was reached the figure “3000” showed. This was finally abbreviated to”30.”
- The use of the term meant the end or “that’s all” because press wires closed at the half-hour mark, the “30” being used by operators to designate that 30 minutes after the hour had been reached.
- It got its start in a daily printing office where a certain number of pages was the usual issue. It took an average of 30 galleys of type to make up the run and each type setter took a gallery slug in turn from the foreman’s desk. When the one who had No. 30 finished his galley he called “Thirty.”
- Use of “30” dates back to an old slug used by journeymen in hand-set days and means “finis” or “it is done.” When men worked “at the case,” the copy was cut into takes and numbered. The man with the last take would place his “30” slug to indicate the article was complete.
All 18 theories have logical reasoning for explaining how the term came into use, so choose the one you like best.