15 Early Telephone Etiquette Rules We Should Bring Back


Modern phones do just about everything, so it's easy to forget that they can make actual calls, too. Take this opportunity to brush up on some old-fashioned phone etiquette from the days when the technology was brand-new—this way, you won't be caught off-guard next time someone actually dials your number to give you a ring.

1. Don’t say “hello,” it’s a waste of time.

The practice of saying “hello” at the beginning of every call was thought to be so superfluous that British phone authorities included instructions in their guidebooks in the 1920s to advise people not to use the greeting. “Hello” should be implied, they figured, and the extra time used to issue the pleasantry tied up phone lines. Modern day fans of getting to the point will surely agree.

2. Take Alexander Graham Bell’s Advice.

Telephone inventor Alexander Graham Bell suggested a different greeting for use on his creation: “Ahoy.” It didn’t catch on, but it’s certainly more fun to say than “hello.” We’re sure Bell would have appreciated you following his lead.

3. Always be ready to talk when you call someone.

A worrying practice in the early 20th century saw folks placing calls and then leaving their telephones to go about their other business, often making a family member or servant tell the person on the other line to wait for the lengthy process of completing the call. If you don’t have time to call someone, don’t call them.

4. Never invite someone to a party over the telephone.

At the turn of the 20th century, it was considered rude to invite someone to a shindig over the phone. Real mail should be used, etiquette experts insisted, as the new technology wasn’t becoming of something as important as a party. The permanence of paper post also gave recipients a record and reminder of where and when the get-together will be held.

5. But if you are, you should also reply by phone.

If someone breaks rule number four, it is up to you to adhere to their faux pas and RSVP via telephone. It’s only fair.

6. Never ask, “Who are you?”

While caller ID may have done away with this problem, early phone etiquette guides instructed people to guess who was calling rather than ask directly. Their reasoning—that the question “Who are you?” is belittling—still makes sense today.

7. Resolve all arguments by telephone.

An early 20th century phone guide for women advised them to handle all quarrels by telephone. According to the guide, the ability to immediately connect with someone over the phone prevented both parties from stewing over the offending matter on their own, which only makes things worse.

8. Don’t swear.

In some telephone networks in the 1910s, using profane language could result in a fine (or even a trip to court!). Keep it polite, folks.

9. Mind that facial hair.

In an effort to encourage people to speak more clearly into their telephones, one California service had to remind male users to keep their mustaches out of the mouthpiece’s opening.

10. Say your telephone number when you answer the phone.

It was a good method to ensure folks had the right number. Time-consuming, yes, but nowadays it’d be a nice way to remind ourselves of our own numbers, something that often gets lost in the age of digital phonebooks.

11. Don’t be afraid to tell someone to zip it.

In the ‘40s and ‘50s, it wasn’t considered rude to stop someone mid-sentence to tell them you were done with the conversation. In fact, a phone service issued a suggested phrase to use: “I’m sorry, but I have to stop now. Thank you for calling.”

12. Keep your mouth one and a half inches from the receiver.

This was calculated to be the ideal distance to ensure the best sound quality. Anything that eliminates speakerphone shouting is still advisable today.

13. Pay attention.

This should have been a no-brainer then and it should be a no-brainer now, but phone companies had to remind people to focus on the conversation, not their cigar or newspaper. That reminder is still needed today (except for the cigar and newspaper part…).

14. Don’t call before 9 a.m.…

Unless instructed to by the call’s recipient.

15. … and don’t call after 9 p.m.

Staying off the phone in general past that hour (which means no email, texting, etc.…) will be a boon to your sleep schedule.

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6 Amazing Facts About Sally Ride

U.S. National Archives and Records Administration, Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons
U.S. National Archives and Records Administration, Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

You know Sally Ride as the first American woman to travel into space. But here are six things you might not know about the groundbreaking astronaut, who was born on May 26, 1951.

1. Sally Ride proved there is such thing as a stupid question.

When Sally Ride made her first space flight in 1983, she was both the first American woman and the youngest American to make the journey to the final frontier. Both of those distinctions show just how qualified and devoted Ride was to her career, but they also opened her up to a slew of absurd questions from the media.

Journalist Michael Ryan recounted some of the sillier questions that had been posed to Ride in a June 1983 profile for People. Among the highlights:

Q: “Will the flight affect your reproductive organs?”
A: “There’s no evidence of that.”

Q: “Do you weep when things go wrong on the job?”
A: “How come nobody ever asks (a male fellow astronaut) those questions?"

Forget going into space; Ride’s most impressive achievement might have been maintaining her composure in the face of such offensive questions.

2. Had she taken Billie Jean King's advice, Sally Ride might have been a professional tennis player.

When Ride was growing up near Los Angeles, she played more than a little tennis, and she was seriously good at it. She was a nationally ranked juniors player, and by the time she turned 18 in 1969, she was ranked 18th in the whole country. Tennis legend Billie Jean King personally encouraged Ride to turn pro, but she went to Swarthmore instead before eventually transferring to Stanford to finish her undergrad work, a master’s, and a PhD in physics.

King didn’t forget about the young tennis prodigy she had encouraged, though. In 1984 an interviewer playfully asked the tennis star who she’d take to the moon with her, to which King replied, “Tom Selleck, my family, and Sally Ride to get us all back.”

3. Home economics was not Sally Ride's best subject.

After retiring from space flight, Ride became a vocal advocate for math and science education, particularly for girls. In 2001 she founded Sally Ride Science, a San Diego-based company that creates fun and interesting opportunities for elementary and middle school students to learn about math and science.

Though Ride was an iconic female scientist who earned her doctorate in physics, just like so many other youngsters, she did hit some academic road bumps when she was growing up. In a 2006 interview with USA Today, Ride revealed her weakest subject in school: a seventh-grade home economics class that all girls had to take. As Ride put it, "Can you imagine having to cook and eat tuna casserole at 8 a.m.?"

4. Sally Ride had a strong tie to the Challenger.

Ride’s two space flights were aboard the doomed shuttle Challenger, and she was eight months deep into her training program for a third flight aboard the shuttle when it tragically exploded in 1986. Ride learned of that disaster at the worst possible time: she was on a plane when the pilot announced the news.

Ride later told AARP the Magazine that when she heard the midflight announcement, she got out her NASA badge and went to the cockpit so she could listen to radio reports about the fallen shuttle. The disaster meant that Ride wouldn’t make it back into space, but the personal toll was tough to swallow, too. Four of the lost members of Challenger’s crew had been in Ride’s astronaut training class.

5. Sally Ride had no interest in cashing in on her worldwide fame.

A 2003 profile in The New York Times called Ride one of the most famous women on Earth after her two space flights, and it was hard to argue with that statement. Ride could easily have cashed in on the slew of endorsements, movie deals, and ghostwritten book offers that came her way, but she passed on most opportunities to turn a quick buck.

Ride later made a few forays into publishing and endorsements, though. She wrote or co-wrote more than a half-dozen children’s books on scientific themes, including To Space and Back, and in 2009 she appeared in a print ad for Louis Vuitton. Even appearing in an ad wasn’t an effort to pad her bank account, though; the ad featured an Annie Leibovitz photo of Ride with fellow astronauts Buzz Aldrin and Jim Lovell gazing at the moon and stars. According to a spokesperson, all three astronauts donated a “significant portion” of their modeling fees to Al Gore’s Climate Project.

6. Sally Ride was the first openly LGBTQ astronaut.

Ride passed away on July 23, 2012, at the age of 61, following a long (and very private) battle with pancreatic cancer. While Ride's brief marriage to fellow astronaut Steve Hawley was widely known to the public (they were married from 1982 to 1987), it wasn't until her death that Ride's longtime relationship with Tam O'Shaughnessy—a childhood friend and science writer—was made public. Which meant that even in death, Ride was still changing the world, as she is the world's first openly LGBTQ astronaut.