Morse code speed is measured in words per minute (wpm) or characters per minute (cpm). Characters have differing lengths because they contain differing numbers of dots and dashes. Consequently words also have different lengths in terms of dot duration, even when they contain the same number of characters. For this reason, a standard word is helpful to measure operator transmission speed. "PARIS" and "CODEX" are two such standard words. Operators skilled in Morse code can often understand ("copy") code in their heads at rates in excess of 40 wpm.
International contests in code copying are still occasionally held. In July 1939 at a contest in Asheville, NC in the United States Ted R. McElroy set a still-standing record for Morse copying, 75.2 wpm. In his online book on high speed sending, William Pierpont N0HFF notes some operators may have passed 100 wpm. By this time they are "hearing" phrases and sentences rather than words. The fastest speed ever sent by a straight key was achieved in 1942 by Harry Turner W9YZE (d. 1992) who reached 35 wpm in a demonstration at a U.S. Army base. To accurately compare code copying speed records of different eras it is useful to keep in mind that different standard words (50 dot durations versus 60 dot durations) and different interword gaps (5 dot durations versus 7 dot durations) may have been used when determining such speed records. For example speeds run with the CODEX standard word and the PARIS standard may differ by up to 20%.
Today among amateur operators there are several organizations that recognize high speed code ability, one group consisting of those who can copy Morse at 60 wpm. Also, Certificates of Code Proficiency are issued by several amateur radio societies, including the American Radio Relay League. Their basic award starts at 10 wpm with endorsements as high as 40 wpm, and are available to anyone who can copy the transmitted text. Members of the Boy Scouts of America may put a Morse interpreter's strip on their uniforms if they meet the standards for translating code at 5 wpm.
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