Etaoin shrdlu

"etaoin" redirects here. It is not to be confused with Étaín, a figure of Irish mythology.
Top: Etaoin shrdlu appearing in a 1903 publication of The New York Times (third line from the bottom). Bottom: A humorous and intentional example of etaoin shrdlu in a 1916 publication of The Day Book.

Etaoin shrdlu (/ˈɛtiˌɔɪnˈʃɜːrdl/)[1] is a nonsense phrase that sometimes appeared in print in the days of "hot type" publishing because of a custom of type-casting machine operators. It appeared often enough to become part of newspaper lore, and "etaoin shrdlu" is listed in the Oxford English Dictionary and in the Random House Webster's Unabridged Dictionary.

It is the approximate order of frequency of the 12 most commonly used letters in the English language.[2]


The letters on type-casting machine keyboards (such as Linotype and Intertype) were arranged by letter frequency, so e-t-a-o-i-n s-h-r-d-l-u were the lowercase keys in the first two vertical columns on the left side of the keyboard. When operators made a mistake in composing, they would often finish the line by running a finger down the first two columns of the keyboard and then start over. Occasionally the faulty line of hot-metal type would be overlooked and printed erroneously.

A documentary about the last issue of The New York Times to be composed in the hot-metal printing process (2 July 1978) was titled Farewell, Etaoin Shrdlu.[3]

In 1966, Irving Fang analyzed a collection of newspaper text and television news copy, and produced the ordering "ETAONIRSHDLC".[4] Peter Norvig processed the Google Books Ngrams in 2013 and found its ordering was "ETAOINSRHLDCU".[5]

Appearance 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

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





See also


  1. "etaoin shrdlu". Merriam-Webster. Encyclopædia Britannica.
  2. Stoddard, Samuel (2004). "Letter Frequency". Fun With Words. RinkWorks. Retrieved 28 June 2013.
  3. Farewell, Etaoin Shrdlu (Motion picture). New York City: Educational Media Collection/University of Washington. Retrieved 28 June 2013.
  4. Irving E. Fang, "It Isn't ETAOIN SHRDLU; It's ETAONI RSHDLC," Journalism Quarterly, December 1966, vol. 43, no. 4, pages 761-762
  5. "English Letter Frequency Counts: Mayzner Revisited or ETAOIN SRHLDCU". Retrieved 24 April 2016.
  6. Winograd, Terry. "How SHRDLU got its name". SHRDLU. Stanford University. Retrieved 28 June 2013.
  7. Courtois Jr., Garth (7 August 2008). "Am I old enough to remember keypunch cards? Umm, yeah...". Blog Archives. Retrieved 27 June 2013.
  8. Weasel, Yah. "Let's Play Mavis Beacon Teaches Typing". YouTube. Retrieved 26 August 2015.
  9. 1 2 3 Quinion, Michael. "etaoin shrdlu". Weird Words. World Wide Words. Retrieved 28 June 2013.
  10. Carter Scholz, Gregory Benford, Hugh Gusterson, Sam Cohen, Curtis LeMay. "Radiance". Retrieved 24 April 2016.
  11. Charles G. Finney (1935), The Circus of Dr. Lao, Viking Press, ISBN 4-87187-664-0
  12. "Etain Shrdlu - The New Yorker". The New Yorker. 28 March 1925. Retrieved 24 April 2016.
  13. Charles Cooke (31 October 1936). "It Can't Etaoin Shrdlu.". The New Yorker. Retrieved 24 April 2016.
  14. "A View of Things". The Edwin Morgan Archive at the Scottish Poetry Library. Retrieved 19 May 2016.
  15. Four-Day Planet by H. Beam Piper.
  16. Shrdlu - An Affectionate Chronicle. Washington, DC: National Press Club. 1958.
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