Today, QRP-L has been brimming over with a discussion on the topic of lousy fists. If you're reading this blog, you're probably a Ham and already know what a lousy fist is. For the uninitiated, an explanation is in order.
The way a person sends Morse Code is known as his "fist". In the days before electronic sending devices, all that were widely available were mechnical devices, the straight key and the semi-automatic key (or as it is better known, the bug). The timing and rhythms were all determined by your brain and the physical characteristics of your sending hand. Perfectly sent code was the goal; but in all practicality, only a very few sent "perfect" code. The rest of us mere mortals did the best we could. Like everyone's unique fingerprints, each operator had a distinct accent or "fist". The real good ops could tell, after a while, who was sending just by listening to the "fist". They didn't need to listen for a callsign.
But I digress. The discussion on QRP-L evolved from a question as to how do you tell someone who sends Morse Code really badly, that they in fact ....... stink? This is a hard question to answer. I would tend to handle the situation delicately. You never know, but the lousy fist you are working might be due to arthritis, old age, Parkinson's disease or some other malady or disability. Do you really want to go off on a guy only to find out he's handicapped in some sort of way? You'd not only be rude; but you'd come off looking the fool. Remember, you don't know the circumstances at the other end of the QSO - don't make brash assumptions.
The other thing about lousy fists is that what do we really expect now these days, anyway? In the year 2000 when the FCC determined that the code test for all Amateur Radio licenses would be 5 WPM, what did folks expect? We have no more Novice class or entry level license. There are no tests for 13 or 20 WPM speeds anymore. You have newly licensed Tech +, Generals and Extras who are literally being thrown into the fray on CW bands with only 5 WPM experience! It's not like in past days, when as a Novice you were segregated into a subband where you could practise and perfect the art of sending Morse Code until you were good enough to be able to handle 13 WPM. That's all gone.
By the same token, there are probably a lof of Hams bemoaning the lack of quality fists who didn't raise a hand in protest when the FCC announced its NPRM to dissolve the need for the higher speed tests. They are reaping what they sewed. Their lusty dreams of lowering the requirements to gain an avalanche of new licensees didn't quite work out as they had envisioned. Unfortunately, the rest of us who saw the folly and demanded that standards not be lowered have to pay their piper now, too.
In the end, if you really feel the need to tell someone their fist is terrible; it's probably best to do it privately via an e-mail or a QSL card. Try to keep it positive, kind and offer assistance. Or, if that's too much of a bother you can always just not work a person you're not comfortable copying. It might seem selfish; but you DON'T HAVE TO respond to every CQ you hear, and in turn you don't have to answer each and every single person who answers your CQ. As a last ditch, if the guys with the terribly rotten bad fists have trouble getting other Hams to work them, then they'll eventually figure it out. The power of the hint can be a powerful thing.
If none of those suggestions appeal to you, there's always the Q-signal QSD. I'll let you go look that one up.
73 de larry W2LJ