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What is a Pager Code?

By Jessica Reed
Updated May 16, 2024
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Pager code is a system for sending words or messages over a pager using only numbers. When pagers, also known as beepers because of the sound they make, first caught on in the 1980s, they could only display numbers and not letters on the screen. Often this was used to display a phone number the owner should call back, but soon a pager alphabet and numeric shorthand developed. People began sending messages either by typing out numbers associated with certain letters or shortening the message down into an understood sequence that represented a much longer message.

Almost everyone knows at least one pager code, even if they don't realize it. In the United States and other areas where those in trouble can dial 9-1-1 in emergency situations, the pager code "911" stands for emergency or an urgent message. This is still seen in many movies and television shows where a character in the middle of a conversation looks down to see "911" flashing on his pager and he must run off to save the day.

Other pager codes spell out words using a common alphabet. The alphabet can get confusing since there are more letters than individual numbers. Some letters use the same number, such as "e" and "f," which both use the number 3, while other letters use two numbers. The letter "k," for example, is often represented by the number 15. A person communicating like this may alter the system slightly to something he and his friends can easily understand.

For communicating messages quickly in pager code, common codes such as 911 have become popular. Another example is the pager code 143, which stands for "I love you." It appears confusing at first, but is actually just a representation of the number of letters in each word. "I" is one letter, "love" is four, and "you" has three letters, thus creating the code 1-4-3.

Codes often change based on the area. While one country may use 911 as the emergency code, another country may have a different emergency telephone number, such as 999. Individuals might create their own phrases and share them with friends and coworkers to ensure everyone is on the same page. A popular code for "hello" is 07734. When the pager is turned upside, this code appears to spell out the word "hello."

Today cell phones have largely replaced the pager. Cell phones allow for easy calling and text messaging on the go and the pager is becoming more obsolete. Pagers have evolved as well, however, and can use both numbers and letters to send a message. Hospitals and other places where communicating quickly is crucial use a pager system to alert workers about an emergency or urgent matter.

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