Saturday, April 22, 2006

Etaoin Shrdlu and Asdf Jkl;

Do you know what etaoin shrdlu is? Recognize it as a character name from a story or novel? Run across it in the dictionary? Encounter it in some other cryptic context?

It wouldn’t be too surprising. The phrase gets about 70,000 Google hits, which, while not huge, seems significant enough to put it into the general knowledge category.

Well, what is it?

It’s a typo. Sort of.

I won’t bother to explain it too much because Wikipedia will learn you good on this, but basically it’s the equivalent of a typist hitting “asdfjkl;”. Basically, when typesetters using the hot metal printing processors made an error, they would spend the slug by using the first line of characters on their Linotype keyboards, just because it was convenient and fast.

Carelessness meant that the letters often got put into print, instead of discarded. This happened enough that they warranted a definition in the OED as well as the Random House Dictionary. Clever souls then proceeded to use the letters as all sorts of names, jokes, and the rest. Thus marks the rise of a famous typo, though there has been no need for its accidental inclusion since the end of the hot metal printing.

However, we do have a modern equivalent: Asdf Jkl;. Like etaion shrdlu, it’s the easiest and most convenient string of characters for the contemporary typist using the standard Qwerty keyboard to hit. These random letters also enjoy the immense popularity that comes with being convenient keys, as evidenced by the Google hits.

Google Hits
etaoin shrdlu – 70,400
asdfjkl; - 70,500
etaoin – 206,000
asdf – 5,030,000

Kellen - 2,220,000

That’s right, “asdf” gets twice as many hits as my first name. Meaningless letters appear on the Internet more than my first name. Who knew that arbitrary letters were so damn popular?


Anonymous Generic Cialis said...

Thank you so much for this post,I had no idea of what etaoin shrdlu is, but I would like to read more about it...

10:41 AM  

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