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Prosigns for Morse code

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Prosigns for Morse code

In Morse code, prosigns or procedural signals are special Morse code symbols or dot/dash sequences that do not represent written alpha-numeric or punctuation text characters. Morse code prosign symbols have been in use by telegraphers for over 100 years. Morse code prosign symbols are not generally part of the information bearing characters or text of a message. Instead, prosigns are special (un-written) symbols, that have particular functions, such as indicating changes of transmission communications protocol status, or indicating and initiating text or page white space (visual arts) formatting procedures. Morse code prosign control symbols, although preceding modern teleprinter (teletypewriter) and computer character sets by many decades, actually play a role similar to that of the so-called control characters or control symbols found in modern computer and teleprinter character sets such as the: Baudot code (Murray code), ITA2, ASCII and EBCDIC codes.

Before the advent of software based computer applications for encoding and decoding Morse code, prosign symbols were transmitted and duly recognized on receive but never explicitly written or printed, either by hand or by typewriter. For illustrative purposes, Morse code prosign symbols may be illustrated in a special written form by delimiting a related alphabetic character group. This is done by applying annotation, such as an over bar or surrounding angle brackets, to (the otherwise normal looking) character group which indicating that the prosign symbol is formed by a run-together concatenation of the character group ignoring the usual inter-character spacing. For example the prosign symbol consists of the sequence (dash dot dot dot dash) pronounced verbally as "dahdidididah", which is a concatenation of B and T characters and not separate B and T characters. In some computer software Morse code applications a couple of these prosigns are represented by the printed ASCII computer character set mathematical symbols "=" for a "new paragraph" and "+" for "end of message" or "new page". In formal recorded message relay procedures several of these prosigns are sent by the sending operator, and represented by the receiving operator, as the presence of white space text formatting of the page, text file, or video screen onto which the message is being copied. The white space (visual arts) being the presence of line spaces on the page delineating: a new line, a new paragraph or, a new page (or section of a page).


  • List of Prosigns (Procedural Signals) 1
  • White Space Prosigns: , and 2
  • Turn Over Prosigns: , , and 3
  • Error Prosign: 4
  • Example Morse conversation 5
  • Quick, meaningful language-independent communication 6
  • Radio telegraph contact contests 7
  • Radio telegraph message relay 8
  • Dotty and Dashy Morse 9
  • See also 10
  • References 11

List of Prosigns (Procedural Signals)

Sign Code Meaning Comment Mnemonic
AA ·-·- New Line (also, "ä" (a with umlaut) in some countries) On typewriter; Carriage Return, Line Feed (CR-LF). "A line"
AR ·-·-· New Page (end of message, stop copying)[1] Often rendered by computer applications as “+ "All Received"
AS ·-··· Wait. AS2 means wait two minutes, AS5 five minutes, etc.[2] Respond with C (Confirmed) or R (Received). For pauses of 10 minutes or longer, use QRX (see Q code) "just A Sec"
BK -···-·- BreaK Indicates "BacK-to-you". Used for fast exchange between two stations. "BreaK"
BT -···- New Paragraph (space down two lines) Often rendered as “=”. On typewriter; Carriage Return, Line Feed, Line Feed. "Begin Two lines"
CL -·-··-·· CLosing down I am going off the air now "CLear"
CT -·-·- Attention, Commencing Transmission Sometimes written as KA "Copy This"
DO -··--- Shift to Wabun code
KN -·--· Invitation to a specific named station to transmit[3] "Go ahead, Named station" or "go oNly", signifying that only the specifically called station should reply "oK, Named-station"
SK ···-·- End of contact[4] Sometimes written as VA "Silent Key"
SN ···-· Understood (also, "I made error, will transmit previous word again" in some cases; or in Wabun code, resume Morse code) Sometimes written as VE "Sho' 'Nuff" or "'tSNot it"
SOS ···---··· Serious distress message and request for urgent assistance (   ) Emergency signal, must ONLY be used if there is imminent danger to life or destruction of property. See SOS Save Our Souls

White Space Prosigns: , and

The (non-written) Morse code white space (visual arts) text formatting prosigns are: , and . The prosign indicates a new line (space down one line), the prosign indicates a new paragraph (space down two lines), and the prosign indicates the end of a message (space down a page or space down to a new part of a page, in readiness for recording a new message). White space (visual arts) text formatting procedures are indicated to a receiving operator by transmitting these (normally unwritten) Morse prosigns. The white space (visual arts) text formatting indicated by these (unwritten) Morse code prosigns predates the use of in-line symbols (=,+) by modern Morse code computer applications. The representation of new paragraph and new page prosigns by means of printed (=,+) symbols first appeared with stand alone electronic Morse code readers that only supported single line displays. In the case of single line electronic displays the use of the symbols (=,+) instead of white space formatting may be necessary since it is impossible to 'space down' the page on a single line display. Traditional white space (visual arts) formatting of pages, text files and, video screens onto which the message text is being written or recorded according to the received (unwritten) prosigns creates more human legible documents than computer methods which insert the, somewhat arcane, in-line symbols (=, +). Software application developers would be wise to include an option to create either white space or, in-line (=,+) symbols when encountering text formatting prosigns.

Turn Over Prosigns: , , and

Turning over a communications channel is the change in transmission communications protocol status when a transmitting station turns over transmitting control to another operator or station. The traditional Morse code turn over symbol is actually the same as the alphabetic character symbol for the letter "K". This symbol for the character "K" (verbalized as "dahdidah") when used as a turn over prosign is only sent at the very end of a transmission and indicates "Go ahead anyone" or "Over to anyone" to other operators who may be listening. This use of the single letter symbol K at the end of a transmission as a Morse prosign is similar to and related to the use of the Morse prosign comprised of the run-together or concatenated letters K and N which indicates a 'selective' turn over change in transmission status meaning "Go ahead only" or "Over to you only" when the sending operator wishes a reply from only the current station and does not wish a reply from other stations. The turn over prosign is usually sent in lieu of K or at the end of the very last transmission from the transmitting station thus turning the communications channel over to other users. Operators often emphasize the 'finality' of the 'last turn over' prosign by immediately following with the "station now closing" prosign . None of these turn over prosigns are written down by receiving operators.

In recent times the traditional Morse turn over prosigns have been adopted by modern non-Morse communications system users. Even though modern teleprinter (teletypewriter) and computer based character codes (e.g. Baudot code, ITA2, ASCII, EBCDIC, etc.) have their own code specific control characters for channel turn over, operators of teleprinter based systems which use these (non-Morse) character codes (e.g. Telex, TWX, RTTY, PSK31, etc.) often type in non-concatenated character groups identical to the run-together character groups traditionally used in Morse code communications. As examples, the traditional Morse prosign letter K is used to indicate a general channel turn over, since one cannot run-together characters on a teleprinter, users will often type the separate character group KN in lieu of the run-together character Morse prosign symbol KN for the selective turn over to a specific station, or type the separate character group SK in lieu of the Morse run-together prosign symbol SK indicating relinquishment of the channel to other users. Some teleprinter users simply type the character group GA ("Go Ahead") rather than KN. Notably, typing SK in lieu of the Morse SK is commonly used by TTY/TDD users.

Error Prosign:

A Morse error prosign symbol indicating a previously sent error is comprised of a series of six to eight concatenated dots or run-together alphabetic letter "E" symbols. In practice, this error symbol is never written down by receiving operators. For illustrative or instructive purposes this symbol may be written as six or more run-together "E" letters with overline as EEEEEEEE, or as a series of six or more "E" letters surrounded by angle brackets as . The number of E characters concatenated to indicate an accidental error must be more than five so that it is not taken as any of the written alpha-numeric characters I, S, H, or numeral 5. A symbol comprising a concatenated sequence of six or more dots is never written down by receiving operators instead it is taken as a signal of an upcoming change to the transmitted message (change in communications protocol). This special error symbol indicates an accidental error in transmission that, once sent, has been almost immediately recognized by the sending operator. When the error prosign is sent it is immediately followed by the corrected information text. When writing or typing, the receiving operator then deletes (or crosses out) the erroneous text and replaces it with the corrected text. Other non-prosign techniques are sometimes used to indicate such accidental errors in transmission. Some operators indicate errors by sending a few sequential question marks (e.g. ???), a sequence which would not often normally appear in regular written text messages. The sequence of three or more question punctuation marks then followed by the correct text. Alternatively some operators indicate an accidental sending error by transmitting a few well spaced-out dots, the unusual "broken" rhythm indicating that an error was accidently sent and then followed by the correct text.

Example Morse conversation

Having sensible and efficient conversations in Morse code involves more than simply knowing the alpha-numeric and punctuation characters, skilled operators must at least also know and respond to common Morse code prosign symbols. In addition to Morse code characters and prosign symbols there are also internationally agreed communications protocols or patterns of communication, international abbreviations, and international codes such as the Q code and RST code to assist with Morse code conversations.

In the following example a Morse code conversation between stations with the call signs X1AA and X2BB is depicted.[5] In the following conversational example the symbol = representing the prosign is shown written in-line as might occur if an automated software application were encoding and/or decoding the Morse code. The prosign symbol or = is actually sent (verbally this prosign may be rendered as "dahdidididah") along with the rest of the Morse code information text characters but these prosigns are not written down by the receiving operator. The receiving operator merely skips down a line or two upon hearing the = prosign to create the appropriate white space.

Often with such short Morse code conversations as the following example receiving operators will actually 'copy' mentally in their heads without writing anything. In the case of mental copy the presence of the or = prosign provides the receiving operator with a short break to digest, and perhaps make or jot down a short note of, the information just sent.


Calling anyone (CQ), this is (DE) X1AA, over, go ahead anyone (K)


Calling X1AA, this is X2BB, back-to-you only. (KN means you are inviting only the named party to reply)


Good afternoon dear old man you are RST 599 here
(Note - RST 599 means... Very readable (5), very strong signal (9), very good tone (9))
I'm located in Timbuktu
The operator is John
How do you copy? Go ahead only X2BB.


Thanks for the fine business report dear old man John. I read you 558.
(RST 558 means - Very readable (5), adequate, low-strength signal (5), good tone (8))
I am in the Himalayas
My name is Yeti. That's all for this transmission (AR), go ahead anyone.
(Note sending K alone as a prosing without the run together N invites other callers to break in).


Okay, thanks (for this) conversation (QSO) dear Yeti
Best regards (73) and hope to see you again. Go ahead anyone.


Roger (R) thank you see you again best regards (73). Signing off.(SK)


Often, a couple of dits typically ends an amateur radio Morse conversation or 'contact'. This traditional Morse code idiom resembles the archaic English "pip pip".

In practice, X1AA and X2BB would be conventional amateur call signs uniquely identifying each of the parties to the contact.

Quick, meaningful language-independent communication

With heavy use of the Q code, prosigns and standard Morse code abbreviations, surprisingly meaningful conversations can be had with relatively short transmissions, rather like "TXT speak" on cellphones. Note that very few full English words have been used in the conversation ("is" and "name"), with most words and phrases abbreviated. X1AA and X2BB might not even speak the same native language, merely learning to translate their native tongue into the correct Morse abbreviations.

Rag chewers are Morse code operators who engage in casual conservations with other operators discussing subjects such as the weather, their equipment, and their families, etc. Of course, real rag-chewing (lengthy chats or conversations) cannot be done without a common language, a lingua Franca.

On the worldwide amateur bands this is most often English but long Morse contacts can also be heard in French, German, Spanish, Russian etc. Likewise, common words in these languages have their own abbreviations, such as "MCI BCP" for "merci beaucoup", "AWDH" for "auf Wiederhören" and "DSW" for "do svidaniya". It is courteous to use such simple non-English abbreviations in contacts with non-English speakers, although there is a slight risk that they might take it as a suggestion that you are fluent in their language.

Radio telegraph contact contests

Contesters are Morse code operators who engage in sometimes frenetic contest activity where transmissions are short and cryptic. Contesters often use an even shorter, stylized format for their contacts. Their purpose is to complete as many contacts as possible in a limited time (e.g. at a rate of 100–200 contacts per hour), so they typically omit superfluous procedural signals and repeats.

For contests, accuracy is particularly important, especially for call signs. To avoid points being deducted during the scoring process, good Morse operators regulate their style according to conditions and the other party (e.g. matching their speed). They also revert to using procedural signals and repeats when the band is noisy and/or the other party seems likely to have trouble copying correctly.

Radio telegraph message relay

Traffic handlers are Morse code operators who send and receive – or "handle" — so-called formal or recorded text messages for relay and delivery to third parties. Morse code record traffic handlers may be radio amateurs or paid professionals such as ship's radio operators or military radio operators who often send a radiogram (message) on behalf of third parties. Since regulations may require that a record of such third party traffic be retained by the sending and relaying stations for a reasonable period such formal third party messages are often called 'record traffic'. These formal records of a third party traffic radiogram (message) are usually hand written, or typewritten, either on paper or typewritten into a word processing file so that a more or less permanent record of the radiogram (message) is available and kept on file for future reference in case the regulating authorities wish to review those records.

In North America (United States and Canada) amateur radio operators ("hams") are permitted to handle such third-party record traffic as a nonprofit public service. Such traffic handling on behalf of third parties by amateurs is actually forbidden by law or regulation in much of the rest of the world outside of the Americas where most message relay service has been reserved for government licensed corporations or governmental agencies such as local PTT authorities (ARRL.

When record traffic handlers receive a formal message traffic radiogram (message) by Morse code they do not write or type prosigns, instead they take the page and text formatting or transmission communications protocol action indicated by the prosigns to format the recorded message on the page, text file, or video screen. For example when hearing the prosign CT ("Copy This") the operator, who is merely listening without copying, will begin copying down all that comes afterwards, immediately expecting a text message header to follow. When hearing BT ("Begin Two lines") within a message, the traffic handler creates white space by starting a new paragraph on the page (e.g. spaces down two lines). When hearing the prosign AA within a message, the traffic handler spaces down one line on the page (i.e., starts a new line for each line of a street address or postal address). Upon hearing the prosign AR the operator stops writing down or recording the message text but continues listening while preparing a new page or new part of a page for further copy of a subsequent message.

An example of a typical record traffic message, sent in the ARRL Radiogram format, first as heard by the operator, as illustrated in the following part A paragraph, including all prosigns and record text and secondly in the following part B paragraph the message as actually recorded on paper or electronic text file, without explicitly written prosigns, showing the appropriate white space (visual arts) created by the receiving operator in response to the prosigns sent by the transmitting operator.

Part A: --- Message as actually transmitted, including prosigns indicated by the characters between angle brackets. ---


Part B: --- Message as recorded on paper with white space text formatting executed in accordance with the received prosigns. ---

NR 2 HXE VE9ZK 10 OTTAWA 1800 12-23-14



INDIA, FL 32900



The preceding two messages illustrate how receiving traffic handlers record the text message without explicitly writing down the prosign symbols contained in the audible Morse code signal as actually received.

By comparing the two messages illustrated under the preceding parts A and B, note that the prosigns and in the part A message simply indicate changes in transmission protocol status and are not explicitly written or recorded by the operator in the part B message. The prosign warns the operator to pay attention and may be interpreted as "Copy This" alerting the operator to begin writing or recording a new page of information text. The prosign means "End of Message" or "New Page", and alerts the operator to stop writing or recording text and to prepare a new page or a new place on the page (white space) for the next message. The other prosigns in the part A are translated into page formatting actions in the recorded part B as follows. The prosign is translated into white space page formatting by creating a new line. i.e. spacing down one line. The prosign is translated into white space formatting by creating a new paragraph. i.e. spacing down two lines.

Note the traditional use of an "X" character in the formal message in parts A and B to indicate a so-called full stop which is equivalent to the period punctuation mark. Traditionally in Morse traffic handling standard punctuation characters such as commas, periods and question marks are not used. Sometimes to ensure accuracy under noisy communications conditions the full stop may be sent as the spelled out word STOP rather than the letter "X". It is also traditional in Morse code record traffic to spell out the word QUERY rather than to send the punctuation mark symbol "?". Further details of traditional Morse code record traffic handling procedures and practices may be found in ARRL National Traffic System (NTS) documentation available in print or on line from the ARRL.

Dotty and Dashy Morse

Apparently so-called Dotty and Dashy Morse were briefly pressed into service during World War I, to confuse enemy eavesdroppers by simple obfuscation. Later this simple obfuscation was replaced by more secure encryption techniques. With Dotty and Dashy Morse one adds a dot or a dash at the end of each (standard) Morse symbol to create a new (obfuscated) Dotty or Dashy character symbol. This is similar to the so-called Pig Latin speaking technique used verbally to obfuscate normal speech. Apparently some authors consider these (Pig Latin like) Morse Code symbol variants to be special cases of Morse code prosign symbols. Since the extra dot and dash were used solely to provide an obfuscated representation of normal printed or written alpha-numeric or punctuation character symbols and not as unwritten control symbols to indicate transmission protocol status or page formatting, these non-standard Morse symbols are not considered 'prosigns' as defined in this article.

See also


  1. ^
  2. ^
  3. ^
  4. ^
  5. ^ Field, Don (2010). The Amateur Radio Operating Manual. Potters Bar:  
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