"etaoin" redirects here. It is not to be confused with Étaín
, a figure of Irish mythology.
A Linotype machine
keyboard. It has the following alphabet arrangement twice, once for lower case (the black keys) and once for upper case (the white keys), with the keys in the middle for numbers and symbols: etaoin / shrdlu / cmfwyp / vbgkqj / xz
etaoin shrdlu (/ˈɛteɪˌɔɪnˈʃrədluː/) is a nonsense phrase that sometimes appeared in print in the days of "hot type" publishing because of a custom of type-casting machine operators. It appeared frequently enough that it became part of the lore of newspapers.
It is the approximate order of frequency of 12 of the most commonly used letters in the English language.
The letters on type-casting machine keyboards were arranged by letter frequency, so e-t-a-o-i-n s-h-r-d-l-u were the lower-case keys in the first two vertical columns on the left side of the keyboard. When an operator made a mistake in his composing, he would often finish the line by running his finger down the first two rows of the keyboard, and then start over. Occasionally the faulty line of hot-metal type would be overlooked and be printed erroneously. This happened often enough for "etaoin shrdlu" to be listed in the Oxford English Dictionary and in the Random House Webster's Unabridged Dictionary.
A documentary about the last issue of The New York Times to be composed in the hot-metal printing process (2 July 1978) was titled Farewell, Etaoin Shrdlu.
Appearance outside typography
|This section needs additional citations for verification. (March 2013) |
The phrase has gained enough notability to appear outside typography, including:
- SHRDLU was used in 1972 by Terry Winograd as the name for an early artificial-intelligence system in Lisp.
- The ETAOIN SHRDLU Chess Program was written by Garth Courtois Jr. for the Nova 1200 mini-computer, competing in the 6th and 7th ACM North American Computer Chess Championship 1975 and 1976.
- Douglas Hofstadter's Gödel, Escher, Bach (1979) includes a dialogue entitled "SHRDLU, Toy of Man's Designing" between fictional programmer "Eta Oin" and the artificial-intelligence program SHRDLU.
- Etaoin Shrdlu, or a portion of the phrase, is a character in works of fiction, including: Elmer Rice's 1923 play The Adding Machine, Charles G. Finney's The Circus of Dr. Lao, Crockett Johnson's comic strip Barnaby, Bill Holman's comic strip Smokey Stover, Walt Kelly's comic strip Pogo, and the novel Psychoshop by Roger Zelazny and Alfred Bester.
- Etienne Cherdlu is a character in Thomas Pynchon's story "The Secret Integration" featured in Slow Learner, a collection of novellas.
- Etaoins is used in James Thurber's 1931 Owl in the Attic to indicate the incompetence of a machine operator.
- In H. Beam Piper's science fiction novel Four Day Planet, the protagonist is a "NewsTaper" reporting the local news; he sprinkles 1950s-era newspaper slang in his conversation. He uses Etaoin Shrdlu as imaginative "profanity" that could still be published in 1950s magazines, e.g.: "That's a double two-em-dashed lie, you etaoin shrdlu so-and-so!"
- In 1942 Etaoin Shrdlu was the title of a short story by Fredric Brown about a sentient Linotype machine. (A sequel, Son of Etaoin Shrdlu: More Adventures in Typer and Space, was written by others in 1981.)
- Anthony Armstrong's 1945 whimsical short story "Etaoin and Shrdlu" ends "And Sir Etaoin and Shrdlu married and lived so happily ever after that whenever you come across Etaoin's name even today it's generally followed by Shrdlu's".
- Around 1970 Denys Parsons published his "Gobfrey Shrdlu" series of collections of humorous printers' errors and odd facts, which he attributed to typesetters being distracted by a supernatural being called "Gobfrey Shrdlu, and his Welsh wife Cmfwyp, and his sons Etaoin and Timoᾦthy". (Compare Titivillus.)
- In The Complete Charlie Parker on Verve, "JATP Blues", "Blues for Norman", "Jam Blues" and "The Opener" are credited to Shrdlu, "The Closer" to Etaoin. Etaoin is credited as the composer of "Blues" on the original 1944 10" LP Jazz at the Philharmonic (Mercury/Clef MG35005).
- Computer terminals in the television series Caprica have their keys arranged based on ETAOIN SHRDLU rather than the traditional QWERTY.
-  Fun With Words, Letter Frequencies
-  The Straight Dope, "What's the origin of the mysterious phrase "etaoin shrdlu"?
-  Michael Quinion, World Wide Words
-  etaoin shrdlu on Vimeo. History and demonstration
-  Examples of the phrase used in American newspapers, from Historic American Newspapers, Library of Congress