As with most professional disciplines, telecommunications has a vocabulary all of its own. Some collectors and enthusiasts coming from a different background may accidentally misuse the terminology, which is unfortunate.


Ringer is an alternative word for bell or sounder. The magneto generator used for ringing bells is not a ringer.

Lineman or linesman?

A lineman repairs telephone (or electricity) wires (remember the song Wichita Lineman?). A linesman (with an S) is someone who runs around a football field.

Bulldog transmitters

—are Bakelite-cased replacements for the original solid back transmitters used on American telephones. Although we had similar kinds of replacement transmitters in Britain, they were never called Bulldogs.

Crank telephones

—are what some Americans call magneto phones. We may have crank telephone calls in Britain but we don't have crank telephones. It's as bad as calling a steam locomotive's chimney its 'funnel'—it's just not done!

Inset or insert?

Transmitter, that is. The correct name for a transmitter or microphone capsule is inset although the other term is also used.


Handset is a shortened from of 'hand combination set' and refers to the combined microphone and receiver that you hold to your head. To use the word handset to mean a complete telephone is not the done thing.

Block terminal

Not the nicest of expressions! The proper name is Terminal Block but because it was listed in the PO Rate Book as a 'Block, Terminal' the about-face name has stuck.


To most people the word telephone means a complete telephone instrument. Old radio books and pedantic people use the term to mean the receiver device only, which is how we get (by analogy) 'headphone' and 'earphone'.

Jacks and plugs

Some people are unclear which is which. The jack (originally springjack or jack-knife switch) is the socket into which the plug is inserted. There's no need to call the plug a jackplug unless the meaning is really unclear.


—are used when an overhead telephone line makes a 90-degree turn, to cross a road, river or railway line. In this situation two sets of arms are used, set as right angles. On normal pole routes you have arms and it is wrong to call these cross-arms because they are not! By the way, we call all poles telegraph poles, regardless of whether they carry telephone or telegraph circuits. They correctly call them telephone poles in America but things are different there, as everyone knows!

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