Talk:Etaoin shrdlu

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Is there really a set pronunciation, considering it's not really a word? Personally, me reading it, I'd pronounce it "ay-TAO-inn SHERD-lu" ("ay" like the letter "A"; "TAO" rhymed with "cow"). Gus 02:30, 2005 Mar 10 (UTC)

I agree with you on "SHERD-lu" but have heard ETAOIN pronounced as "ee-TAY-oh-in" ("ee" as in "feet") in a linotype context. Your "ay-TAO-inn" would be an excellent choice for the name of one of the characters derived, but somewhat removed, from the term, whereas "ee-TAY-oh-in" should most likely be preferred as a spoken expression of the letter sequence itself and its direct derivations. 00:45, 14 December 2007 (UTC)

In high school print shop we learned "Et-ay-oh-in sherdl-oo." GeorgeLouis (talk) 03:18, 24 December 2012 (UTC)

What does this mean?[edit]

"This is distinct from the letter frequency of dictionary words." I bet most readers are confused by that phrase, too: can we explain it better? - DavidWBrooks 15:37, 5 May 2005 (UTC)

Two months later, I'm still confused by it. I've moved it down in the article, and am toyng with removing it entirely. - DavidWBrooks 12:45, 14 July 2005 (UTC)
I would imagine it means that if you measure the letter frequencies of a list of words in a dictionary, the result would be different from the letter frequencies in any given corpus of intelligible text. For a theorical example (that may or may not be correct) the high frequency of the word "the" in English texts could lead to a boost in the frequencies of the letters "t", "h" and "e" compared to the corresponding frequencies in a dictionary, where the sequence "the" is more rare. I don't think this is particularly relevant, though; I've never heard anyone talk about the letter frequency of dictionary words at all before, so it's probably not necessary to make a distinction here. EldKatt (Talk) 13:23, 22 January 2006 (UTC)
It was removed from the article some time ago. - DavidWBrooks 16:33, 22 January 2006 (UTC)
I'm surprised that (apparently) nobody has realized that letter frequency is an elementary concept in cryptography. It does not refer to dictionary words, but to large and varied specimens of text in any particular language. Regards, Nikevich (talk) 08:14, 26 November 2010 (UTC)

"Linotype operators ran a finger down the lines of keys to temporarily mark a slug of type, or to indicate that they had made an error and the rest of the line in which they appear should be removed." Hrm? This is ĵust jargon. I can't decode it and I doubt anyone else can unless they already know what it means, thus rendering the purpose of an wikipedic reference moot.

I think I understand it; let's see if we can rephrase it. A Linotype machine casts characters in hot lead as the user types. Each line of characters apparently gets cast as a unit, called a slug. Apparently there was no way to tell the machine, "discard this line and start over", so instead the operator would type in a standard bit of garbage to remind themselves to discard the slug (there'd be time for them to forget, presumably, since they'd have [to wait] for the slug to cool down). How do you want to handle it? Rephrase it, or maybe include some explanatory text? - User:Metageek 14:32, 7 Dec. 2005 (UTC)

Confirmed -- Each line is cast as a unit, hence the trade name. Harris Intertype machines were almost identical.
Also correct: There was no way to to make the machine discard a line that it had just cast. Nikevich (talk) 08:14, 26 November 2010 (UTC)


Somehow I missed the box where one notes what one edited -- I added a reference to Girl Genius under the 'Fiction' section because the named characters are likely to be reasonably significant for some weeks yet.

Corgi 20:41, 6 January 2006 (UTC)


Why is the title of the page capitalised? If the Linotype keys were arranged in order of frequency then the lower-case ones surely would have come first and hence been used for this phrase. The illustration shows "etaoin shrdlu" in lower-case. 00:17, 4 March 2006 (UTC)

Lower-case and capital letters were separate keys on the Linotype; I understand it was more common for the capital letters to be used, to make it more visible to page layout folks, and therefore less likely to be printed. - DavidWBrooks 03:48, 4 March 2006 (UTC)


This article says


and Letter frequencies says


The differences begin after "CMF". I think we should figure out which is better founded and stick with that for both articles.

--Blakeops 03:50, 24 June 2006 (UTC)

There is no official, exact list, especially with the less-frequent letters; trying to decide what list if best would be a thankless task. I watered down the wording here. - DavidWBrooks 13:39, 24 June 2006 (UTC)
Knowing "etaion shrdlu" is indispensable if you play Hangman. As you say, the rest of the letters are less certainly ordered in frequency. (talk) 17:28, 20 August 2017 (UTC) Eric
The most accurate ordering for our purposes here would be the one actually used on Linotype machines, yes? EldKatt (Talk) 21:00, 24 June 2006 (UTC)
Ah - good point. I actually work next to one, and will check Monday. - DavidWBrooks 21:32, 24 June 2006 (UTC)
See also "What does this mean?" earlier on this page. My interpretation of the question about letter frequencies would be exactly this; that there is a discrepancy between what Linotype uses and what most reliable letter-frequency experiments have come up with as to which letters are the most frequent. But one can suspect that the Linotype designer took practical concerns into consideration when constructing the keyboard layout, rather than slavishly adhering to the letter frequency ranks.-- era (Talk | History) 08:45, 13 January 2008 (UTC)
Never mind; I misunderstood the question. The Letter frequencies article now has the same information about the Linotype arrangement as this article, as far as I can tell.-- era (Talk | History) 09:09, 13 January 2008 (UTC)


It is not entirely correct to say "Linotype operators who had made a typing error could not go back to delete it": they could. But it had to be done by hand on the little rack of matrices to the left of the keyboard; these had their letters stamped on the front side, so the operator could reverse the order to correct a transposition or take an extra matrix out (to be sent up to the magazine later. But this was in a country printshop (The Silverdale Breeze, Silverdale Washington) where I had my first job in 1951. Typesetters for dailies doubtless didn't bother, as ETAOIN SHRDLU was much faster.

In the appearances of this phrase outside of printing, I used to see it in the margins of Mad Magazine, when that was still in comic book format.

Mjkovich 12:59, 16 July 2006 (UTC)

Fair use rationale for Image:Etaoin.jpg[edit]

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Image:Etaoin.jpg is being used on this article. I notice the image page specifies that the image is being used under fair use but there is no explanation or rationale as to why its use in this Wikipedia article constitutes fair use. In addition to the boilerplate fair use template, you must also write out on the image description page a specific explanation or rationale for why using this image in each article is consistent with fair use.

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BetacommandBot 02:23, 6 September 2007 (UTC)

I hope it's not inappropriate for me to add this here. I've placed a much older example of the "ETAOIN SHRDLU" text from a newspaper article dated 14 November 1895 on my website, at . I would be glad for this to be used in the Wikipedia article if someone wants to add it. John Blythe Dobson (talk) 22:19, 6 April 2009 (UTC)
I've uploaded commons:File:Etaoin shrdlu.png which is from 1903. It illustrates the concept with a free image. Image:Etaoin.jpg is now tagged for deletion as unused non-free content. --mikeu talk 00:37, 28 December 2009 (UTC)

Lower case.[edit]

The title of the article should be lower-cased because that is the way the letters appeared when they were used. You will note from the photograph that the first two rows of keys are lower-cased. I moved it over to the lower-case version, although the WP software continues to capitalize the "e." GeorgeLouis (talk) 04:08, 24 December 2012 (UTC)

etaoin shrdlu[edit]

I happened to come to Wikipedia to verify the sequence of the first line of the keyboard. Have read much of the entry on etaoin shrdlu and did not see any reference to how the term was jokingly described in the trade. I worked as a Compositor in Australia from the fifties to the eighties and still set an occassional line of handset type. Among Compositors there was humourous agreement that Etaoin Shrdlu was a blacksmith-turned-compositor who invented the technique know as "Kentucky Justification" which involved justifying a loose line of handset type by hammering a bodkin into an em quad causing it to expand and thereby tighten the line so that the forme would lift. As an aside, it is amaysing how in such a short time since the abandonment of lettterpress printing that so many erronous ideas have crept in and become accepted truths. (talk) 04:08, 14 July 2013 (UTC)

The Circus of Dr. Lao[edit]

Isn't Etaoin Shrdlu also the name of the local newspaper man in the book The Circus of Dr. Lao? (talk) 17:04, 26 September 2014 (UTC)