Several times in my teaching career I have found myself saying “143” and watching my students do a double-take. “What did you say that for?” they ask their number-spouting Latin teacher, who often claims she doesn’t “believe in science or math” when they ask me for help on their homework for other subjects. And then I explain “it’s pager code for ‘I love you.'”

“What’s a pager?”

What’s a PAGER?!

English: Numeric Pager

What is the tiny electronic box I begged for and vividly remember opening on my 14th birthday? That I wore tucked in my jeans, my Jansport, in my hands all night? That I kept a constant supply of batteries for? That I learned a completely ridiculous language of numbers for, and went by a code name, and always needed a quarter so I could get to a payphone and respond to a page?!

I will go on to explain that pager code was a system of numbers for the letters of the alphabet, and we could receive phone numbers, pages with messages, or voicemail alerts on our pagers.

“Where did you find pay phones? How much did they cost? What if you didn’t have a quarter?”

“Did you need wifi?” <—one of my favorite comments

“Did you talk in numbers?”

Defunct pay phone, LaSalle Street, Uptown New ...

“Wait, you didn’t have a cell phone until you were 18? Wait, you couldn’t text each other until after college? Wait, you SURVIVED all that time?!”

I realize that by posting the code and how to use it, I am totally betraying my generation. But perhaps I am also celebrating a simpler time.

A time when I didn’t have to get back to you or anyone else immediately. A time where my options for notification were: one beep, three beep, or vibrate. A time when I had phone numbers memorized, I used dictionaries and Thomas Brothers maps and a radio alarm clock, my mom couldn’t track me on “Find my Friends,” and no one ever knew my status.

A time when we read and wrote in numbers.

The basic concept behind pager code is that each letter in the alphabet is assigned a number or combination of numbers. You separate the words by a * symbol. At the end of your message, which could be several pages long (always fun to crack those codes) you could sign off with your designated code, usually your sport jersey number or letter combination. For example, I was *09 because I was 9 on my volleyball time.

The alphabet was set like so:

A = 8   B = 8   C = 6   D = 0   E = 3   F = 4   G = 6   H = 4   I = 1   J = 7
K = 15   L = 7    M = 177    N = 17    O = 0    P = 9    Q = 0    R = 12
S = 5     T = 7     U = 11      V = 11     W = 111      X = 25      Y = 4     Z = 2

Now, remember, when you typed these into the pager system, they were more block-y, so they might look more like the letters than they do with this font.

We also had codes for frequently used messages; “143” was “I love you,” based on how many letters in each word. Which brought us “24” for “too much” and “823” for “thinking of you” and “637” for “always and forever.” We didn’t have any “BRB TTYL LOL” equivalent back then. But we were on our way there.

So at night, I would page my friends something like this:

6000*171647*14324*637*823*09  (Good night. I love you so much. Always and Forever. Thinking of  you. Rachel.)

So I will write a message, you can try to figure it out:


haha. aw. its cute.

well there you have it! speak in numbers with your friends! :)

For further flashback fun, this homegirl even wrote a blog with a playlist dedicated to pagers. And drugs. My favorite – “Bug a Boo!” you make me wanna throw my pager out the window! Check the lyrics here for a great flashback…they reference MCI! Bahaha. Here’s the video: