As I was sitting next to my radio this afternoon, I had tuned to a frequency on 12 meters sideband where I’d seen a spot for a station in Madagascar (5R). I need 5R on 12m so I was listening to see if the station would build (grow in strength) to the point where I could attempt a contact. While waiting for that to happen, I heard another US station call him, giving his callsign properly. Although I couldn’t hear the 5R station, what I did hear was this (callsign changed mostly because I don’t remember exactly what it was, and to protect the not-so-innocent): “5R8UI, did you come back to my-callsign question mark?“. The US station literally said the words “question mark“!
Ok, while I can understand that had this happened on CW, the operation would have sent the code for “question mark”, but given that this was a voice contact, wouldn’t you think that the tone of voice and the fact that the sentence was actually a question would have been sufficient?
There’s been a lot written about the overuse of the CW Q-signals when using a voice mode, and while you can debate some of those (saying “My QTH is River Vale” rather than saying “I live in River Vale”), it just struck me as pretty funny to hear someone actually say the words “question mark“.
By way of explanation, the reason the Q-codes were invented was to provide a shorthand way to send information over telegraph lines and later wireless. It does make sense in particular on CW, where the operators at both ends of the conversation might not both be fluent in a common language. So on CW, it does make sense to say “QTH River Vale New Jersey” rather than spelling it out. It becomes, along with some other abbreviations, it’s own common language.