Why was the -30- mark used?

The -30- sign is an archaic term that was used in journalism up to the early 1980's. The sign was included in the end of copy that was submitted to the newsdesk, to mark that this was, indeed, the end of the news story. It is still used – albeit rarely – to mark the end of press releases and other non-published copy.

The origin of the -30- mark

The -30- mark's true origin is hard to determine. As a previous write-up notes, it has been used as one of the telegraph signals meaning "end of story". However, the -30- has probably been around since before the telegraph was even invented, so this is not likely where it begun.

There are numerous theories regarding possible origins for the-30- sign:

  • Eighty means farewell in Bengali; an English officer used 80 in the end of a letter to the East India Company in 1785. Adopting this, the EIC mistook the 80 for 30.
  • The first message during the Civil War. The number "30" was placed on the bottom of the telegraph after it was written out. This was later picked up by other telegraphers.
  • The end mark during early newspapers was the hash sign (#). Typists, either by mistake, or to save time, didn't go to upper case, hence "3". A zero and two dashes were added for the look of it
  • When AP (Associated Press) was established, each member paper was entitled to 30 telegraphs a day. The 30 marked the last telegraph.
  • Back in the day, when typesetters still manually placed slugs, a typesetter would place his #30 slug at the case to symbolize that he was finished with his article - so another typesetter could take over the cases
  • Press wires closed at the half-hour mark - 30 minutes past the hour.
  • Press offices used to close at 3'o'clock. This was later abbreviated to 3'o, and finally to -30-
  • Some people believe that this is a reference to the bible (ignoring that we are talking about journalists here, which almost by definition rules out the theory), in that 30 silver pieces caused JC's death
  • When newspaper stories were handwritten, X meant the end of a sentence, XX meant the end of a paragraph, and XXX meant the end of the story (XXX is of course 30 in roman numbers)

In its own way, every one of the explanations above seem valid. If I was to choose, I'd go for the last one.. But then again, who am I to decide?

Whatever the use was, the -30- sign has been with us for a long time, and was only killed off when computers started to gain foothold. But not completely: cbustapeck notes that In the pamphlet "What's Your Story - A Guide For Getting News Into The Washington Post", published recently by the Washington Post, the 30 sign is mentioned. In their directions for faxing press releases, they say "6) Type 'end' or '30' at the bottom of the last page."


Last corrected and updated Monday June 08, 2004.