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Why ‘HI’ ?
By Bill Chaikin, KA8VIT
February 2018
(This is a rewrite of an article I first wrote about 25 years ago and was published in a few amateur radio club newsletters.)
Most of us know even if we’re not CW ops, that “HI HI” or “di-di-di-dit dit dit di-di-di-dit dit dit”, is
Morse code for laughter or a laugh. Younger hams can equate it to LOL as used today in text
messages and on social media. So universal is its meaning that its usage has even crept into the
phone and digital bands. “That’s a funny story old man, HI HI”. I’m guilty of doing that myself. But
have you ever wondered why we laugh that way?
If the Internet or social media were to give us a clue, you’d think that the way we would laugh in lazy
man’s shorthand would probably be “HA HA” or “HE HE” as these are in common usage on the
Internet. Some believe that “HI HI” was really “HEE HEE” like someone giggling and that over the
years the two “Es” have been run together so that instead of sounding like “di-di-di-dit dit dit” it now
sounds like “di-di-di-dit di-dit”. I even read one post where one ham was telling another that “HI” is a
pro-sign for “HUMOR INTENDED”. That really made me laugh… HI HI.
But, it is not “HI HI” or “HEE HEE” we’re sending when we laugh in Morse code. It’s “HO HO”. Like
Santa’s laugh. What? No, really. Let me explain.
Many things with today’s International Morse code usage can be traced back to its roots in the old
American Morse code, (also known as the Land-line or Railroad Morse code).
In American Morse code there is a longer intra-character space
used in the characters C, O R, Y and Z, (and also the & character)
which is two element times long, (see figure #1).
So, back in the day, the telegraphers laughed by sending, “HO
HO”, and it sounded like, “di-di-di-dit dit dit”. With a noticeable
pause between the last two dits. Why “HO HO” and not “HA HA”?
That can be attributed to mid-nineteenth century American English.
Later on as radio telegraphy came about and some land-line
telegraphers took their skills to the air waves, “HO HO” went along
with them.
Over time the Morse code went through some changes to become
what is now known as the International Morse code. One of the
changes was dropping the two element time intra-character space
which lead to a simpler, more efficient Morse code. This is what
has lead to a lot of the confusion over the origin of “HI HI”.
So, as a CW op, history and tradition dictate that when we send “HI
HI”, we send it as “di-di-di-dit dit dit”, with a noticeable pause
between the last two dits.
That’s my story and I’m sticking to it… HI HI.
Copyright © 2018 by Bill Chaikin, KA8VIT – All Rights Reserved.
Fig #1.
1911 Chart of the Standard
American Morse Characters