Ideas for Tidbits come from many sources, with a good number arising by chance; many originate by stumbling upon articles, images, or illustrations while researching another topic. Still, most stumbled-upon articles are found in old newspaper sports sections, not other sources.
Today's Tidbit is of a different, though somewhat related, sort. It came while watching two documentaries about the Linotype machines used to typeset newspapers and other printed materials from the 1880s to the 1980s when photoelectronic methods took over. Of course, I watched the documentaries to understand the newspaper process of old and a general interest in how one technology replaces another, so I did not expect a specific story idea to come from the documentaries.
So, here it is. Linotype operators typed in the contents of articles written by the reporters, generating one physical "line o' type" at a time, with each line of metal print called a slug. Although the operators sometimes made errors, the machines did not allow backspacing or other means of correcting the error. The solution was for the operator to enter a consistent error into that line by keying each letter in the two leftmost columns on the Linotype keyboard, which differed from the QWERTYUIOP pattern on the standard U.S. typewriter. The result was the sequence of characters, ETAOIN SHRDLU, alone or with other sequences. After entering Etaoin Shrdlu, the operator reentered the line of text correctly and moved on to the rest of the article.
Others further down the publishing process looked for errors in the typeset copy, including examples of Etaoin Shrdlu, and, when found, the editors removed the offending slug or line. But the editors sometimes made mistakes, too, allowing instances of Etaoin Shrdlu through the process so they appeared in print. So, I thought it would be fun to find Etaoin Shrdlu examples in articles about football, and here are a handful of examples.
A number of the Etaoin Shrdlu examples appear in the body of articles, despite these seeming like the easiest ones to spot.
More easily forgiven is the Etaoin Shrdlu in the fine print, sometimes in article subheaders, and more often in the box scores. Of course, some mistakes are more grievous than others.
But the rarest of rare examples found in the wild is the double Etaoin Shrdlu, which came along once in a blue moon.
Etaoin Shrdlu is now all but extinct, with the majority of occurrences since 2000 related to documentaries about the Linotype machine or the individuals featured in the documentaries. Those Etaoin Shrdlus are not even real Etaoin Shrdlus since they documented the Etaoin Shrdlu process within the Linotype system. (Likewise, only the Etaoin Shrdlus in the images included in this article are real Etaoin Shrdlus.)
Of course, if you are interested in learning more about Linotype machines and Etaoin Shrdlus, the two documentaries I watched shown are below. The first, which runs an hour and ten minutes, covers the Linotype machine's development, technology, use, and attempts at its preservation.
The second documentary is 28 minutes long and covers the last day Linotype machines prepared the New York Times for printing in 1978.
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