ETAOIN - in the NY Times Sunday Puzzle

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Anonymous's picture

Our good friend and favorite troll appears in the Times puzzle, validation of his existence. (though the phrase has existed since the advent of linotype setting machines)

Anonymous's picture
Neile (not verified)

ETAOIN SHRDLU - A nonsense phrase; an absurd or unintelligible utterance.

With the idea of speeding up the setting of type, the old Linotype keyboards had their letters arranged in decreasing order of the frequency with which they appear in the language, making the first two rows ETAOIN SHRDLU. This curious phrase is recorded both in the Oxford English Dictionary and also in the Random House Webster’s Unabridged Dictionary. Linotype operators who made a typing error would often run their fingers down the keyboard to cast nonsense to fill out the line. The resulting cast slug was usually put back in the pot to be melted down and reused, but sometimes, in the heat of composition, the mistake was missed and ended up being printed.
Each half, and the complete phrase, has occasionally been borrowed to mean something that is nonsense or absurd; the first part is recorded in a story by James Thurber from 1931, and the whole thing appeared in 1942 as the title of a short story by Fredric Brown about a sentient Linotype machine. Jake Loddington has told me about The Naughty Princess by Anthony Armstrong, written in 1945, in which there is a whimsical short story called Etaoin and Shrdlu which 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”. Andrew Stiller mentioned a once-famous play, The Adding Machine, in which Etaoin Shrdlu was a character. The second half of the phrase was used in 1972 by Terry Winograd as the name for an early artificial-intelligence system.

With computerised typesetting the machines have gone and the associations are almost lost, but the phrase remains a useful mnemonic for the most-used letters in English.

Anonymous's picture
John Kalish (not verified)

"Actually, he spells it Etoain, says it's Montenegrin

""Clearly John, you have not been following my posts since they first appeared when I explained this all. ""Etoain"" has nothing to do with ""Etoian."" Etoain is merely the Montenegrin word for ""Stephen"" or ""Steven."" My close friends simply call me Steve Shrdlu, although you may not.
Your Pal,

and cursed me out rather unpleasantly via email when I suggested that perhaps that was not the case."

Anonymous's picture
Neile (not verified)
Anonymous's picture
Michael (not verified)
Odd then that his last name is shrdlu

Maybe he just goofed on his first typing of the nonsense, or didn't want anyone to be able to google him

Anonymous's picture
E. Toe. In. Shrdlu (not verified)
Who's trolling whom?

"You know, I really resent it when I get called a troll, and meanwhile a whole bunch of people (above) comment on me in response to absolutely nothing I've posted. I haven't even been on the board for the past few weeks because I'm on a long bicycle trip. If I'm a troll, what are all the people in the posts above? Chopped bolsheviks?

My last name is Shrdlu. My first name is Etoain, not Etaoian, and yes it means Steve and I'm sick and tired of explaining all this to you people.

At the moment I'm bicycling through Ohio with Raisehellfrida The Mud Maiden. We're on this lovely rail trail between Springfield and Xenia, and all of a sudden cyclists who know me are telling me I have to check the NYCC board because they're talking behind my back.

Fortunately, there's this college right along the trail. We couldn't get into the college library to use a computer because neither of us has a student pass. But Raisehellfrida started talking to this woman senior about this and that, and we got invited up to her room for this and that, and there's a laptop Mac here.

So that's how I get to send this out at nearly ten o'clock at night, and never mind what Raisehellfrida and the student are doing in the lower bunk next to me.

""Where there's a will, there's a susceptible college student,"" as my childhood friend Vlasic used to say.

Your Pal,
Etoain (not Etaoian) Shrdlu"

cycling trips