Digits for phone number

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Digits for phone number

Post by GTT » Tue Jan 08, 2008 1:12 pm

Origin of "digits" as a substitute for a person's phone number. I recently heard it from one of my students and in the recently released movie "Heartbreak Kid".
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Digits for phone number

Post by gdwdwrkr » Tue Jan 08, 2008 1:20 pm

Roots go back at least to the 80s. An NPR article about what to call certain post-"dialing" telephone actions cited "prestidigitate" as replacing "dialing", and "barb" for "button at right-bottom".
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Digits for phone number

Post by hsargent » Tue Jan 08, 2008 2:52 pm

Must be buried in the South. Never heard of "Digits" for phone numbers. I have been amused that we still use "dialing" a phone.

Digits are fingers or individual numbers of a base ten number system.

Dial is a verb. How would this be replaced by a noun ... Digit? I think we are still looking for an alternative.
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Digits for phone number

Post by Tony Farg » Tue Jan 08, 2008 6:19 pm

Key?
Indigitate?
Shovel?
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Digits for phone number

Post by Berale » Tue Jan 08, 2008 7:12 pm

Never heard of this use of digits.

I'd vote for "to key". Dialling is something I do remember doing in the old days and oh, it was laborious! But Harry, the verb "dial" comes from the noun "dial", doesn't it? One thing the English language seems to do a lot is turn nouns into verbs. In English it rains, snows and hails. (In Hebrew the rain/snow/whatever comes down.)
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Digits for phone number

Post by tony h » Tue Jan 08, 2008 10:14 pm

What was the phrase?
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Digits for phone number

Post by hsargent » Tue Jan 08, 2008 10:21 pm

I like key or punch!
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Digits for phone number

Post by p. g. cox » Tue Jan 08, 2008 11:20 pm

When it was first instituted in the late 60s the copyrighted term used by AT&T was touch-tone. Instead of using the term "dial" we used the term "touch". e.g. "Touch 555-1212".
As a point of interest, the first touch-tone payphones installed in the USA were on Palm Canyon Drive in Palm Springs, CA in the late 60s. As the term was copyrighted by AT&T the local phone company, California Water & Telephone Company (also known as "Drip & Tinkle), used the term "Touch Dialing".
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Digits for phone number

Post by gdwdwrkr » Tue Jan 08, 2008 11:27 pm

One of you can surely elaborate on touch-tone as it evolved. When it came to our Builders' Show in 1966, young musical prodigy that I was, I wowwed the crowd with "Mary Had A Little Lamb" on the phone. Each digit was a note. Now it's some dual digital bi-tone...I don't know the term, but wasn't it John Balucci who could fake it and get free calls?
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Digits for phone number

Post by zmjezhd » Tue Jan 08, 2008 11:50 pm

There was a blind guy named Engressia who used to whistle free long-distance phone calls back in the '60s. (He died recently.) Wozniak and Jobs, the two Steves who later founded Apple Computers, used to make and sell blue boxes (for phone phreaking purposes) in the dorms at UC Berkeley.
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Digits for phone number

Post by p. g. cox » Tue Jan 08, 2008 11:56 pm

James, actually it was a combination of two tones or frequencies hence its proper term Dual-tone multi-frequency or DTMF. Click on: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/DTMF for more.
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Digits for phone number

Post by Erik_Kowal » Wed Jan 09, 2008 1:42 am

Although the traditional telephone dial is generally a thing of the past, I believe the term 'dial' will be around for a long time yet. When we talk of dialling someone up, there is no possibility of mistaking what action we are performing. To be as useful, any successor term will need to be equally unambiguous. This cannot be said of 'key', with its parallel application to keyboards, security keypads and so on. 'Touch' is even less specific, and nowadays also has connotations of masturbation that would likely induce many people to shrink from using it instead of 'dial'. Also, the telephone has been a part of everyday life for so long now that the verb 'dial' has had plenty of time to deeply root itself in people's linguistic habits. 'Touch dial' may once have been useful for phone companies that were drawing attention to the novel features of the equipment they were marketing instead of the dial phone, but nowadays it has the ring of a long-winded anachronism to which the ghost of the rotary phone still clings.

'Dial' is far from being the only term that is still in use though what it refers to is obsolete. In Britain, 'telegraph pole' (US = 'telephone pole') has yet to be supplanted despite the fact that old-fashioned telegraphy has not existed there for decades. Equally, in the USA the time when objects were conveyed in a trunk strapped to the back of a stagecoach has long since passed, but the term 'trunk' to refer to a car's luggage compartment still thrives. The expression "If it ain't broke, don't fix it" comes to mind.
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Digits for phone number

Post by gdwdwrkr » Wed Jan 09, 2008 2:17 am

p. g., I'm pretty sure that the DTMF supplanted the original touch-tone system. It was different - a much simpler sound. It is possible that the earpiece delivered a single note, while the DTMF was actually transmitted over the line.
In the rotary-dial days we were able to place free calls on "Pay phones" by simply tapping out the number on the 'hang-up button'.
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Digits for phone number

Post by p. g. cox » Wed Jan 09, 2008 5:29 am

James, You are probably thinking of the original Multi-Frequency MF signaling system that AT&T originated in the 50s. These were the tones that some people were able to replicate with their voices. The dual-tone system was designed to prevent that as it is harder to replicate unless you had a blue-box. Both systems were transmitted over the voice path, or in-band. The newer digital network signaling systems such as SS7 (Signaling System 7) are transmitted over a separate path or out-of-band; no more whistling. DTMF is still used from the telephone to the phone company switch.
Erik, I agree as long as the intent of the term "dial" is understood, why change? And what about your dashboard, boot, offside and nearside, all terms from the horse-drawn carriage days, still in use today in reference to cars.
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Digits for phone number

Post by Wizard of Oz » Wed Jan 09, 2008 7:22 am

.. Erik I couldn't agree more .. words develop and change to accommodate new methods of achieving the same ends .. kilometrage never got a look-in to replace mileage when Australia adopted the metric system .. people simply understood what was meant even though the units had changed ..

WoZ in Aus 09/01/08
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