In Praise of etaoin shrdlu

The Linotype Machine revolutionized printing in the late 19th century. Its name is derived from its ability to compose “one line of type” at a time, which was vastly superior to hand-setting of type. It worked much like a typewriter, but was attached to hulking machinery. The phrase “etaoin shrdlu” comes from the arrangement of the Linotype keyboard, which instead of the standard QWERTY arrangement, orders letters by the frequency in which they occur.

This machine was rendered obsolete by the 1970s thanks to advances in digital typography. But the history and importance of this machine is the subject of a new documentary called Linotype: The Film.


At first glance it seems in line with recent typography-oriented documentaries, most notably Gary Hustwit’s Helvetica. Much more information can be found about the film at this website, along with several clips. I doubt it will make it to a theater near me, but I’m certainly looking forward to the DVD.

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6 Responses to In Praise of etaoin shrdlu

  1. Elaine says:

    “Once you have ink and type metal in your blood, it never comes out.” I have to see this!


  2. Matthias says:

    I hope it will end up in some form or other on my side of the Atlantic…


  3. Must get. (The film, not the machine.) Sean, I think you’ve scooped a lot of people — your post is the first thing I’ve read about this film.


    • Sean says:

      I had this image in my mind, that went something like this:

      Elaine: “You’ve been on that Linotype Machine all day!”
      Michael: “Is it time for supper?”
      Elaine: “No, it’s my turn!”



  4. Gunther says:

    I have heard about the film, and I am very happy to hear that the DVD release is scheduled for October. I will purchase a copy on the first occasion!


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