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Sunday Book-Thought 122

Etaoin Shrdlu affected the linotype operator somewhat, and the newspaper reader slightly, and yet it is an emblem. Its very obsolescence helps lend it status. It recalls, for one thing, a feature of those years, when human behavior, e.g. movements of one’s left little finger, could be inflected by imperatives one needn’t know about. (How many operators knew why ETAOIN had the leftmost keyboard column?) Technology tended to engulf people gradually, coercing behavior they were not aware of. And it altered their world, so much so that an office typist of 1910 could not have imagined how her 1880 counterpart used to spend the day.
Hugh KennerThe Mechanic Muse (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1987), p. 9.


Sunday Book-Thought 121

Writing, when properly managed, (as you may be sure I think mine is) is but a different name for conversation: As no one, who knows what he is about in good company, would venture to talk all; – so not author, who understands the just boundaries of decorum and good breeding, would presume to think all: The truest respect which you can pay to the reader’s understanding, is to halve this matter amicably, and leave him something to imagine, in his turn, as well as yourself.
For my own part, I am eternally paying him compliments of this kind, and do all that lies in my power to keep his imagination as busy as my own.
Laurence Sterne, The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman, ed. by Melvyn New and Joan New (London: Penguin Books, 1997), p. 88.