Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Who the Hell Is Eatoin Shrdlu?

No that is not a Gaelic dancer or Lithuanian farmer. EATOIN SHRDLU -- those are, in order of frequency, the 12 most common letters of the alphabet in written English. This is why I never lose playing the Hangman game on my Nook. Once you go through those letters, you rarely find a Hangman word where you can't fill in the missing letters.

Unsurprisingly, it has its own Wikipedia page, which gives its history, going back to the linotype printing days. It even gives the updated frequency based on modern computer studies: ETAONI RSHDLC or ETAOIN SRHLDCU (13 letters!) -- take your pick; naturally there would be two competing schools of thought on this. But neither of those sounds very "name-y", unlike the original. Those two sound more like secret CIA cryptonymic code designations for Agency operations, as in ZRRIFLE (the Castro Assassination Plot) or JMWAVE (the Miami CIA station) rather than foreign names of people.

Naturally, the Oxford Dictionary also something to say on the whole topic.

So how does it end up? Predictably, again depending on the source, CMFWYGP BVKQJXZ. (That first group actually looks Welsh to me.)

So why does anyone even study this kind of thing? Well, based on my 40-year-old-experience in academia, the less something matters in the "real world", the more likely people are to heatedly argue over it. During the Clinton years, professors actually came to blows over the definition of "is" -- as in "That depends on what your definition of 'is' is"...


Katy Anders said...

I went to junior high with Eatoin.

He was the center of every conversation. When he wasn't around, there wasn't as whole lot to say.

Farnsworth68 said...

Jesus, that is FUNNY! Happy New Year!