Years ago, I remembered everything ever discussed in this space.
Even when I went to bed, only my body slept. My mind kept proofreading the column I had just written. By the time I woke up, every word of that opus was chiseled into the granite of my memory.
Now I don't remember what I wrote last week, and I'm resigned to it. Little that I write is worth remembering.
Dr. William R. Duryee has written to me about the "paper strings" that are sometimes delivered together with his morning newspaper. He says that some years ago I explained that these paper strings were put there by a man named Etaoin Shurdlu, but he adds that I didn't explain why.
Frankly, I have no recollection of ever having written such a thing. It's possible that in a fanciful moment I wrote about Etaoin Shrdlu or about Shrdlu Etaoin, but if I spelled it Shurdlu I made a mistake. It's pronounced that way, but it's spelled with only one u.
Let me explain why: A Linotype keyboard is wholly unlike that of a typewriter. For one thing, a typewriter's keyboard "staggers" the letters, whereas a Linotype's arranges them in precisely aligned rows.
Starting from the top, the left-hand row is ETAOIN. Immediately to the right is a row that reads SHRDLU.
When an operator makes a mistake in keyboarding copy and wants to fill out a bad line which he will then (one hopes) remember to throw into the hellbox (a receptacle for discarded type), he usually runs a finger of each hand down each of the two rows of keys at the extreme left side of his keyboard. Whether he hits ETAOIN first or SHRDLU first may depend on pure chance or on whether he's right-handed or left-handed. I don't know.
In any event, Linotype operators sometimes forget to throw away their bad lines, with the result that those shrdlu etaoin lines (or etaoin shrdlu lines) get into the newspaper, for one edition at least.
Over the years, those combinations of letters became, to newsmen, synonyms for all sorts of gremlins that afflict the printing trades. We used to blame Etaoin Shrdlu, or Shrdlu Etaoin, for anything that went wrong; and sometimes we even hung the title on things that went right. An official history of the National Press Club and the National Press Building is titled "Shrdlu."
Today, the Linotype machine is en route to the Smithsonian Institution's collection of Early Americana. Lead (otherwise known as "hot metal") is rapidly disappeariang from the publishing field. It is being replaced by "cold type," the photographic process that brings you much of today's Washington Post and will soon produce the entire newspaper.I write this column on a video display terminal (VDT). By striking three buttons on my keyboard, I can cause the final draft of the column to be set into "type."
Nobody else "keyboards" it after I do. Any errors that appear in the paper are mine. I can't blame a printer for them.
The "paper strings" that Dr. Duryee says I blamed on Etaoin Shurdlu are, of course, remnants of the cutters on high-speed presses that trim paper faster than the eye can follow.
I suspect they'll be with us a lot longer than Linotype machines will.
To me, it's still a scientific marvel that automated machines and electronic wizardry enable us to publish 100 million pages of newsprint on an ordinary night. But modern children take such things for granted.
They don't exclaim in wonder when they learn that type is set by a computer hooked up to VDT screens. In fact, if you tell them the computer can translate Bob Woodward's thoughts into type, they'd probably accept that news calmly, too.
Kids today don't know about men like Mr. Earl (Earl L. Broaddus) who did the work manually before computers were invented. At the age of 88, Mr. Earl could still drink whiskey and play poker until daylight, get to Pimlico in time for the daily double, return to The Post before the whistle blew for the start of the night shift at 6 p.m., and then set galley after galley of clean type until it was time to go back to drinking whiskey and playing poker.
Many of us miss Mr. Earl and his vanishing breed. But we'll be happy to see the last of Etaoin Shrdlu. TRICKS OF THE TRADE
Bob Orben watched a photographer make pictures at a dinner for lawyers. To get the lawyers to smile, the cameraman said, "Say fees." THESE MODERN TIMES
Milestones, published by the Miles Glass Co., brings us news of the parents who promised their son a new car when he graduated.
When the son finally got his degree and got behind the wheel of his graduation gift, he found a little card propped up in front of him.
On it was the message, "From Mama and Pauper."