Meme: Car and Woman Arguing, 73

Meme: Car and Woman Arguing, 73

“Best regardses” and “Best regards’s”

That’s silly, of course. We who speak and write in the English language know that you should not pluralize a word that is already in its plural form. “Best regards” means, “I wish you the best of regards.” It is implied that there is more than one regard. Perhaps there are a few, perhaps many more. It then is clear that we wouldn’t normally pluralize “regards,” into, “regardses.”

It is also silly to say that the best of regards owns something.  How can a regard let alone a group of regards own anything?  So, why “73’s” when written?

Old SWLer QSL Card With 73's

Old SWLer QSL Card With 73’s

The usage of “73” comes from early landline telegraph (typically railroad telegraphy landlines). Originally devised in the era of telegraphs, 73 and other numbers were used to speed up the transmission of common messages over landlines by mapping common messages to these specific numbers.  And, numbers were quicker to send than the longer messages the numbers replaced.

QST, April 1935, on page 60, contains a short article on the origin of the amateur radio vernacular, 73. This article was a summation of another article that appeared in the “December Bulletin from the Navy Department Office of the Chief of Naval Operations,” published December of 1934.

Landline (Railroad) Morse Code

A skilled landline Morse code operator, in action.

Here’s a quotation from that Navy article:

“It appears from a research of telegraph histories that in 1859 the [land-line] telegraph people held a convention, and one of its features was a discussion as to the saving of ‘line time.’

A committee was appointed to devise a code to reduce standard expressions to symbols or figures. This committee worked out a figure code, from figure 1 to 92.

Most of these figure symbols became obsolescent, but a few remain to this date, such as 4, which means “Where shall I go ahead?’. Figure 9 means ‘wire,’ the wire chief being on the wire and that everyone should close their keys. Symbol 13 means ‘I don’t understand’; 22 is ‘love and a kiss’; 30 means ‘good night’ or ‘the end.’

The symbol most often used now is 73, which means ‘my compliments’ and 92 is for the word ‘deliver.’ The other figures in between the forgoing have fallen into almost complete disuse.”

We can see, then, that “73” mapped to “best regards” or “my compliments” and was intended as a general valediction for transmitted messages.  That’s why it is silly to say, “73s,” as that maps to, “best regardses” – 73s adds the plural to a plural.  (And, don’t make it possessive, as in using, “73’s” – a regard cannot own something).

Jeeves, there's no plural for 73

Cartoon: Jeeves, there is no plural for 73…

For reference and some more interesting background on this, see http://www.signalharbor.com/73.html

An example of on-the-air conversation (or, QSO—“QSO” is the shorthand Q-code for, “two-way exchange of communications”) illustrates proper usage of 73. When saying your goodbye, you would tap out the Morse code as follows:


That is interpreted as, “Thanks for the fine-business chat. I hope to see you again for another chat. Best regards and happy new year.”

This, if you choose to throw around shorthand Morse code number codes when you are speaking, you wouldn’t say, “73s.” You would say, “73.”

Old Man Hiram Percy Maxim 1AW QSL Card with 73's

The Old Man Hiram Percy Maxim 1AW used 73’s on his QSL cards.

My friend, David Edenfield, opined, “This idea is beyond turning into glue from the dead horse it’s beating again. This is so petty to be concerned with this. Even the Old Man Hiram Percy Maxim 1AW used 73s on his QSL cards.”

Well, even Hiram Percy Maxim has been incorrect and incorrectly used grammar. (chuckle)

There is something to be said about teaching new amateur radio operators the best of our traditions, history, skills, procedures, protocols, ethics, and culture. There’s no rational argument that can make a case that allowing these aspects of our service and hobby to degrade over time (by the lack of Elmering) is a good way to see our service and hobby thrive and progress.

I don’t see any slippage from high standards as being a good strategy for nurturing growth, progress, and effectiveness of our service and hobby. Keeping some level of excellence in every aspect of our hobby can only be beneficial.

In this case, how many new hams that learn to repeat ham lingo know anything of the history behind the common “73?” My dead horse turned glue is educational and it is my belief that educating about origins elevates the current.

73 – NW7US

NW7US QSL Card (circa 2019)

NW7US QSL Card (circa 2019)



Visit, subscribe: NW7US Radio Communications and Propagation YouTube Channel


  • Bob N2SU:

    It’s all relative.

    As language is a man-made invention, any rules vis-a-vis language are inherently imperfect, as man is an imperfect being.

    Does it really matter??????

    We all understand what is being said.

    Usage determines what what is considered “correct”, not a bunch of academics in ivory towers.

    Language is a living thing, and it evolves over time. If you refuse to be flexible and change over time, you wind up like the French, who refuse to let their language adapt to modern times in the use of modern terminology, instead trying to invent words to keep the language “pure”. Likewise, “hamspeak” has to evolve as well.

  • Zal----VU2DK:

    I think Bob N2SU has said it all ! Aside from the 73 debate–in the 3rd picture from the top—the morse key used by the railroad guy—-is one I’m still proud to own–its a solid brass key, original US Signal Corps with the side swipe switch for net & tune.Real vintage job !

  • Bart - AA7VA:

    And then there is the multiple possessive plural form –
    Best Regardsezezez –

  • Frank K4FMH:

    73s: one to each of you…

  • KD6KHK:

    Use 73s or 73″s, and you know what it means sounds stupid.

  • Glenn VE3GNA:

    All the different variations of salutations, 73, 88, 33 and 161 have had an “s” added at one time or another. All are incorrect. You will never hear this done on CW as us old school ops know better, IMHO. Stick a microphone in front of a CW chap and you will be lucky to get a couple of “ums”. I have two HF rigs and both have mics. Those evil contraptions are buried in the bottom of a file drawer somewhere. I have been all but banned outright from an east area traffic net which operates on SSB for trying to checkin with (horrors) CW. This is a phone net I am told so you check in with voice. What if I had no voice? What then? What if I were adrift at sea with only a CW radio and no means of modulating it? Am I to be ostracized because I still insist on using CW?

  • Jean-Marc, F5SGI:

    To N2SU: I thought there were less clichés (French word, in passing) about the French in the amateur radio community. I was wrong. If you spoke French and if you were in France, you would see that we are used to our language being invaded by English words. It is not for pleasure, but we are getting used to it. 73 (without “s”). F5SGI, Jean-Marc

Leave a Comment

Subscribe FREE to AmateurRadio.com's
Amateur Radio Newsletter
News, Opinion, Giveaways & More!

Join over 7,000 subscribers!
We never share your e-mail address.

Also available via RSS feed, Twitter, and Facebook.

Subscribe FREE to AmateurRadio.com's
Amateur Radio Newsletter

We never share your e-mail address.

Do you like to write?
Interesting project to share?
Helpful tips and ideas for other hams?

Submit an article and we will review it for publication on AmateurRadio.com!

Have a ham radio product or service?
Consider advertising on our site.

Are you a reporter covering ham radio?
Find ham radio experts for your story.

How to Set Up a Ham Radio Blog
Get started in less than 15 minutes!

  • Matt W1MST, Managing Editor

Sign up for our free
Amateur Radio Newsletter

Enter your e-mail address: