etaoin shrdlu

etaoin shrdlu

So what the hell is the deal with that? I know Cecil himself promised an upcoming column on the subject, but I’m damned impatient. It sounds to me like an in-joke. And there’s nothing more irritating than an in-joke when you’re not in on it. (Okay, maybe genital itching.)

So what’s with it?

Note: If it’s anything like WYSIWYG, then I’ve heard the answer several times, just failed to register it. Please set me straight, Straight Dopers.

Etaoin shrdlu is a mnemonic for remembering one calculation of the order of occurrence of letters in English. It was possibly made famous and given an odd spin by its use within the Artificial Intelligence debate,being used in Godel Escher Bach by Douglas Hofstatter in the seventies.

I agree that Cecil’s reference in this week’s column could have been clearer, but when he said “Remember etaoin shrdlu?”, that was shorthand for "All of my true followers have memorized their copies of More of the Straight Dope, so they are aware of my classic column on this topic, which appeared on page 262: What’s the origin of the mysterious phrase “etaoin

Or, to put it more simply, it’s one row of keys on the old Linotype typesetting machine. The typewriter/keyboard equivalent is QWERTY UIOP.

It was also the name of the bookworm in the old Pogo comic strip.

With regard to AI, “shrdlu” was the name of Terry Winograd’s program used in his natural language research in the late 60’s, early 70’s:

Now, why did Winograd chose the second letter grouping? From MAD magazine, of course, which found it almost as hilarious as “potzrebie”. Since you hardly ever see anything but the first two groups of letters, I think I’m going to name something “cmfgyp” when I get the chance.

Etaoin Shrdlu was a humorous SF novelle (story) written (50’s) by Frederic Brown about a monotype machine that actually gained intelligence by understanding the books that were set by the typographer. It called itself Etaoin Shrdlu
and all ended in disaster.