Etaoin shrdlu in a 1903 publication of The New York Times (third line from the bottom)
A humorous and intentional example of etaoin shrdlu in a 1916 publication of The Day Book

Etaoin shrdlu (/ˈɛtiɔɪn ˈʃɜːrdl/,[1] /ˈtɑːn ʃrədˈl/)[2] is a nonsense phrase that sometimes appeared by accident in print in the days of "hot type" publishing, resulting from a custom of type-casting machine operators filling out and discarding lines of type when an error was made. It appeared often enough to become part of newspaper lore – a documentary about the last issue of The New York Times composed using hot metal (July 2, 1978) was titled Farewell, Etaoin Shrdlu.[3] The phrase "etaoin shrdlu" is listed in the Oxford English Dictionary and in the Random House Webster's Unabridged Dictionary.

The letters in the string are, approximately, the 12 most commonly used letters in the English language, ordered by their frequency.[4]


The letters on type-casting machine keyboards (such as Linotype and Intertype) were arranged by descending letter frequency to speed up the mechanical operation of the machine, so lower-case e-t-a-o-i-n and s-h-r-d-l-u were the first two columns on the left side of the keyboard.

Each key would cause a brass 'matrix' (an individual letter mold) from the corresponding slot in a font magazine to drop and be added to a line mold. After a line had been cast, the constituent matrices of its mold were returned to the font magazine.

If a mistake was made, the line could theoretically be corrected by hand in the assembler area. However, manipulating the matrices by hand within the partially assembled line was time-consuming and presented the chance of disturbing important adjustments. It was much quicker to fill out the bad line and discard the resulting line of text than it was to redo it properly.

To make the line long enough to proceed through the machine, operators would finish it by running a finger down the first columns of the keyboard, which created a pattern that could be easily noticed by proofreaders. Occasionally such a line would be overlooked and make its way into print.

Appearances outside typography

A Linotype machine keyboard. It has the following alphabet arrangement twice, once for lower case (the black keys) and once for upper case (the white keys), with the keys in the middle for numbers and symbols: etaoin / shrdlu / cmfwyp / vbgkqj / xz
Close-up of keyboard, showing "etaoin / shrdlu" pattern

The phrase has gained enough notability to appear outside typography, including:




See also


  1. ^ "etaoin shrdlu". Merriam-Webster. Encyclopædia Britannica. Retrieved December 21, 2018.
  2. ^ Weiss, David Loeb (July 1, 1978). "Farewell, Etaoin Shrdlu". New York Times. Retrieved December 21, 2018.
  3. ^ Farewell, Etaoin Shrdlu (Motion picture). New York City: Educational Media Collection/University of Washington. Archived from the original on August 20, 2018. Retrieved December 21, 2018.
  4. ^ Stoddard, Samuel. "Letter Frequencies". Fun With Words. RinkWorks. Retrieved December 21, 2018.
  5. ^ Winograd, Terry. "How SHRDLU got its name". Stanford University. Retrieved December 21, 2018.
  6. ^ Courtois, Garth Jr. (August 7, 2008). "Am I old enough to remember keypunch cards? Umm, yeah..." Retrieved December 21, 2018.
  7. ^ Archived at Ghostarchive and the Wayback Machine: Yahweasel (February 12, 2014). "Let's Play Mavis Beacon Teaches Typing". YouTube. Retrieved December 21, 2018.
  8. ^ a b c Quinion, Michael. "etaoin shrdlu". World Wide Words. Retrieved December 21, 2018.
  9. ^ Shulman, Max (1944). Barefoot Boy with Cheek. Bantam Books.
  10. ^ Finney, Charles G. (1935). The Circus of Dr. Lao. Viking Press.
  11. ^ Shrdlu – An Affectionate Chronicle. Washington, DC: National Press Club. 1958. Archived from the original on October 25, 2015. Retrieved December 21, 2018.
  12. ^ "The Best of Shrdlu" by Denys Parsons
  13. ^ "Etain Shrdlu". The New Yorker. Retrieved December 21, 2018.
  14. ^ Cooke, Charles; Maloney, Russell (October 31, 1936). "It Can't Etaoin Shrdlu". The New Yorker. Retrieved December 21, 2018.
  15. ^ Reynolds, Eric; Thompson, Ilse, eds. (2000). The Complete Crumb Comics. Vol. 14. ISBN 1-56097-364-1. Retrieved December 21, 2018.
  16. ^ "Randomized appearance - NetHack Wiki". Retrieved 2022-02-15.
  17. ^ "Molten Fairies". The Daily News. Vol. XLI, no. 14, 787. Western Australia. 5 August 1922. p. 11 (third edition). Retrieved 22 April 2023 – via National Library of Australia.
  18. ^ "Etaoin performed by Dallas Roberts". Popisms. Retrieved December 21, 2018.
  19. ^ "Songs and music featured in House of Cards S2 E10 Chapter 23". Tunefind. February 14, 2014. Retrieved December 21, 2018.