Stoneman held out the telephone alarm card with the complaint signed in telephone duplicate on the back.

What does this sentence mean, especially in telephone duplicate? This is from the book Fahrenheit 451.

I know what a telephone is and I know that duplicate is a copy of something. But what is in telephone duplicate? And what the sentence means?

  • So far as I'm aware, neither telephone alarm card nor telephone duplicate have any established meaning outside the context of Fahrenheit 451 (but I stand to be corrected). Oct 20, 2016 at 15:39
  • 4
    I'm voting to close this question as off-topic because it's effectively "Literary Criticism". Oct 20, 2016 at 16:12

4 Answers 4


In this context the Fireman was showing her the complaint sent in by her neighbor over the wire. They used to call copies from a copy machine "duplicates" years ago, and I think it's fair to assume that she wrote a note and sent it over something like a fax.

The book is based on a fictional future where entire walls are video screens, cars drive themselves, and the government finds and burns all books. So I think we can safely assume Bradbury had some 'futuristic' way of communicating written text across a distance in mind when he was referencing "telephone duplicate".


Remembering that Fahrenheit 451 was written in 1953, I suspect that it means "duplicated over the phone", like a fax. Clearly the card came in by telephone, but it was also signed "in telephone duplicate"; since you can't literally sign something over the telephone, and the signature is a "duplicate", this seems to suggest that it was somehow duplicated over the telephone system, like a fax machine does.


Honestly, without hearing the entire context, I have no idea. Farenheit 451 is a science-fiction story and so Ray Bradbury wrote in many technologies and practices that would have seemed futuristic back in the 1950s. One of these, possibly, is the idea that, instead of signing a physical piece of paper, a form could be signed and authorized over the telephone. This would have been a big deal back in 1953, although today it seems hopelessly archaic.

With this kind of science fiction, you often have to judge what the words might mean from how the author uses them. For example, it may seem odd to read an old science fiction story from the 1930s with the hero pointing a "ray gun" at some Martians. Nowadays we would more likely use "laser pistol", but of course the laser wasn't invented until the 1960s. Still you can easily guess from the hero's actions that a "ray gun" is some kind of weapon -- a gun that shoots some kind of rays instead of a physical projectile.


A telephone duplicate might refer to something like the following:

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You can search for "Telephone Duplicate Message Spiral Book" to find examples of advertisements for these kinds of books (link not provided due to the hassle of posting disclaimers for advertisements).

There are two sheets to every entry. Someone writes on the top sheet (the original), and the message is copied by ink transfer to the bottom sheet, also called the carbon copy or duplicate.

The author might have meant that the original complaint was written in this kind of stationery, and Stoneman was holding out the duplicate (or carbon copy).

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